Sep 7, 2013


In a cinematic time in which the masses have lost their patience for nearly everything that doesn’t involve massive amounts of blood or a brand title they recognize from years past, it seems almost incorrect to say that there is still life burning behind the slow-burn movement. Guys like Ti West, and James Wan, or standalone films like Citadel or The Awakening, are keeping the movement going thanks to their contributions of slow-going horror, established on a foundation of tone and atmosphere rather than full-on scare. Those two things are more important to a horror film than anything else. If you can establish a mood that never allows your audience to settle back into their seats, then you’re onto something.

That’s how I felt watching the directorial debut of Rodrigo Gudiño, editor of Rue Morgue Magazine.

The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh finds Leon (Aaron Poole) coming back to his childhood home following the death of his mother, Rosalind (Vanessa Redgrave, who never appears on-screen in any traditional way). Inside her almost castle-like interior of a house, Leon finds an army of religious relics – angels, Virgin Marys, and crosses. They litter every room – some less than six inches, and some twice as tall as himself. Among this collection of religious iconography, he finds a lone VHS tape labeled as “God’s Messengers.” Its contents feature shaky amateur footage of a religious cult, led by a Nick-Cave-lookin’ fellow who it would seem has the power to beckon stone sculptures to life. This, coupled with the demonic animal that apparently lives in the overgrown brush outback, and you have yourself one haunting night to remember.

If you can appreciate films for anything beyond mindless time-wasters, you’ll be immediately struck by Gudiño’s direction. For a directorial debut, the film is gorgeous.  The camera moves incredibly fluidly around Rosalind’s house, accompanied by a haunting voice over seemingly narrating her journal she purposely left behind for Leon to find. Another thing you may notice: though the film’s concept you could argue is a tired one, I’d argue it’s been quite a while since you’ll experience a film that feels like this. Part experimental, part traditional horror, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh feels at times like something The Exorcist and Legion author William Peter Blatty would have undertaken as director.  His direction on his own novel adaptation The Exorcist 3: Legion as well as The Ninth Configuration feels the same way as it does with here. The images captured are haunting and beautiful and heartbreaking and unnerving all at the same time, though there is nothing obvious or overly horrific on-screen.

Like House of the Devil, or I Am A Ghost, Rosalind Leigh is a one-man show. Except for characters on the phone, or on choppy camcorder footage, or unseen on the other side of the door, it is just Leon, son of Rosalind Leigh, wandering around her old, archaic house, wondering if that one particular statue of the Virgin Mary is moving around from room to room by itself.

At no point does Rosalind Leigh not feel like a dream. Leon’s sparing interaction with who sounds to be an estranged girlfriend over the phone never feels…right. Nor does the strange man who knocks on the door in the middle of the night to express his condolences over Rosalind’s death, and to warn about the strange animal that has allegedly been sighted on the property. This scene, too, doesn’t quite feel right. None of these people act as if they have any semblance of humanity whatsoever, but know enough about it to skate by.

Fair warning, Rosalind Leigh’s pace is not for every one. In fact, once the one-hour mark comes and goes, and it doesn’t appear the film is laying down any real, concrete development or revelations, it might cause some viewers to tune out. With this kind of approach to filmmaking, that’s inevitable.

Nor, either, will those people enjoy the film’s conclusion. Because there really isn’t one – not in the traditional sense where Leon finds his mother’s bones, or her lost prized necklace, or some other lame icon that has prevented her from resting in peace. Like the Polanski films that defined slow-burn horror, it’s not so much about the conclusion as it is about the journey. It’s about sticking with this one solitary character as he wanders around a dark house in the middle of the night clutching a lit candle. It’s not just a night of death but of rebirth.

I’ve corresponded with Rod Gudiño several times over the years and I can say without hesitation he is a fine fellow and quite personable. Beyond that, I can’t say I know much about the man from a personal standpoint. Beyond reading the last paragraph of every review for this film (which is my style—people give away too much shit these days), I haven’t done any kind of research behind the film’s origins and inspirations. Having said that, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh feels intensely personal. It feels like a film made by a person who wanted to do more than just marry together a bunch of elements caused by nothing by budget restrictions.

In a way, it feels less like a film and more like an exorcism.

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