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Requiem (2003)
Director: Mitchell Morgan and Jon Kirby

review by Paul Higson

Your reviewer is put in a slightly awkward but moreover than that bemusing situation with this film, for never have I praised a film so highly yet ultimately had it fail me to the point of my hating it. The technical proficiency of all concerned in Requiem plays a major part in the slow burning aggravation. It becomes of great frustration that here is a great crew, fine actors, 35mm and filmmakers who are proven aficionados of our country's greatly maligned, once popular horror genre and see it wasted on a dreadful script.
   Co-producer Crispin Manson takes the lead role of Martin the property developer clearing the ghosts of the past by buying up the sanatorium that would appear to have previously housed his father Jeremy (Jason Connery) until his death by suicide. Following a presentation of his proposals his wife Nancy (Jodie McMullen) serves him with divorce papers and they become locked in the building. Unable to find a way out, the building visits its own echoes on Martin, trapping him in rooms, giving him a phantom hand to hold in the pitch dark, then visions of his dead father. Soon he is switching places with his father in the visions. Next he shares his father's off-kilter state of mind at the historical point at which he strangled his wife, the boy's mother. With the property developer's wife the only other person wandering the corridors the dead of that night, if a repeat of the episode is to occur, she is the only likely candidate for a strangling.
   Perhaps it does sound a workably synopsis. It isn't. For a short, yes, but for a feature, even one that runs only 78 minutes it is too painstaking a premise. As the film proceeds through the story becomes a stultifying endurance test. The imaginings dishearten for the calling back to the worst of eighties video promo visuals, characters in simple masks like a very bad Kate Bush video, only without the song, the dance and Kate.
   There is clarity in the camerawork that holds throughout. Joe Zafar's cinematography is immaculate and the occasional colour in the white corridors excites the eyes, assisting in the pursuit and any hope of the film improving. One of the earliest of bold images has Martin trapped in the room his face in the window of the door as on the other side of the screen the focus is remarkably held on the approaching silhouette of the wife entering the corridor in search of him, while in the centre of the screen they are separated by an obsidian blackness. In Velazquez's "Las Meninas" that impenetrable blackness is a stroke of genius, though admittedly, in Requiem it is device employed to hide the join on the trick, but appreciable nonetheless. It brings to mind a shot from Peter Collinson's Fright. Other films that are brought to mind include Roger Corman's The Masque Of The Red Death as the main character throws open doors to identical but different coloured rooms and another impeccable image again with the man's silhouette in a stream of diagonal light centre of the screen across a red-painted uneven floor like a stream of blood may well have been lifted from Dario Argento's Inferno, co-director Mitchell Morgan a confirmed giallo fan.
   Crispin Manson, who has worked with the directors since Only Darkness, has the presence to command and carry off the centre stage role, though it is Jodie McMullen who is allowed to do more and come through on it, a showcase for her clear talent could be extracted from this. Jason Connery, as ever, is no great shakes, gives us only a fraction of the feeling that it is felt he should be exhibiting. He is the right age for the role he is cast in, a few years younger and he would also have been old enough, yet, even with a beard, he still looks like a boy. He is there because he is a name, the son of a bigger name, with a record for working on low-budget films, films on which others defer payment or money is raised by share schemes. It was filmed at the Fairfield Hospital in Herefordshire between February and March of 2001, so we can probably expect something new from them soon, though when last heard Morgan was enjoying Paris and Kirby was going after much bigger budgets for a three film slate that would began, handily, with a psychological thriller, presumably for the two to come together on once again.
   Nothing harms this film but the story. It outstays our patience, makes unnecessary demands on us, the conclusion arrived at long before it is delivered, the writer may think he has pushed it back far enough and distracted us, but he has distracted only himself. Mitchell Morgan has written the script, possibly going on the first draft, the location, money and actors secured desperate to apply something to those factors. I hope all have learned from the making of the film but it is nothing but a crushing, half-minded, pretentiously drawn bore. The talent is all in place, the house is built, the family installed, it needs only the furniture for living.
   Jon Kirby and Mitchell Morgan are among of number of young, directorial double acts in the British independent horror scene today and it seems to work with the teams co-operation meaning that the heat is taken off the individual and the films are made in quick turnaround, and for further evidence of this one only needs to look at the quickly built-up feature filmographies of the Johannes Roberts and James Eaves, and Julian Boote and Ian David Diaz teams. It is a high positive note that so many young people have evolved this sensible and successful approach.
   Previously touted under the promising title 'Skewered' through shooting, Requiem is Kirby and Morgan's fourth film, and not only that but their fourth film on film, the first two, the British giallo Only Darkness and the supernatural mystery Craven Place, on 16mm, their third a strange thriller called Jack Of Diamonds their first foray in 35mm. Requiem received one of its first public screenings at midnight on Friday 29th August during the 14th Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester, one of four new British features and many UK shorts receiving a first look see over the weekend. It would be nicer to see British horrors reaching a wider circuit but mishaps like this can only put buyers of more likely distributable British fare cautious of seeing them. I go away praising everyone involved, four films in four years for crying out loud, that's impressive too. Just please learn, those to whom it applies, from the worst of all possible blunders. Test your story before you go.
Reqiuem - behind the scenes

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