Written and Directed by: Rodrigo GudiŮo
Starring: Aaron Poole, Vanessa Redgrave, and Julian Richings
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
She will not rest in peace.
When describing a film, of the more convenient critical short-hands at our disposal is comparing them to other films to give some an impression of what weíre dealing with. Thatís a tough thing to do with The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh, a film that largely resists easy comparisons to anything thatís come before it. While it carries some familiar thematic baggage, it feels like something rare: a unique horror experience that ruminates on death and regret in a brooding manneróthereís a menace to it thatís palpable and skin-crawling. Forgive the clichť, but itís like a half-remembered nightmare that burrows into your subconscious in favor of assaulting it with constant shocks and jolts.
As you might imagine, it approaches with a slow burn, minimalist approach: Leon (Aaron Poole) has inherited a house from his recently deceased mother (Vanessa Redgrave). The two shared an estranged relationship thatís illuminated in impressionist style as the film unfolds. Phone conversations between Leon and a friend reveal that Rosalind Leigh was a religious zealot who often subjected her son to strange rituals involving an angel statue. As Leon rummages through the house, he encounters the very same statue lying among heaps of other stuff, such as a weird videotape that captured another mysterious cult ritual.
The film mostly proceeds in this fashion, with Leon poking around the house. I suppose youíd consider it a haunted one, albeit not in traditional fashion; instead, the halls of this house are lined with regret and despair. Rosalind Leighís spirit lingers throughout, even though Redgrave is mostly confined to pictures and a persistent voice-over. The latter is a tricky technique that often comes off as lazy hack-work, and some of Redgraveís dialogue is a little on-the-nose here; however, itís mostly effective in contributing to the filmís oppressive mood. Through her voice, Redgrave creates a contradictory presenceóRosalind seems to be menacing and pitiful all at once. Her son might be the star of what is essentially a one-man play (a terse interaction with a spooky neighbor is the only other person who physically shows up), but this is most definitely her story from beyond the grave.
The Last Will and Testament does a fine job of placing us in Leonís shoes, too. Just as he never really knew his mother, she remains an enigma to audiences as well, so her story is rightfully obtuse and ambiguous. Itís a film about confronting both angels and demons, only itís difficult to separate the two. Initially, Rosalind herself seems quite sinister, though she becomes more complex as Leon begins to understand just how and why she died. Essentially, heís been sent on the guilt trip from hell, and the film interestingly morphs the audienceís perception of both characters to eventually reveal that neither is exactly a saint. If you strip the film down to its bare essentials, it sounds like itíd make for some syrupy, corny shit since it revolves around a mother attempting to bring closure to her complicated relationship with her son, but itís actually quite disturbing and sad here.
When reconfigured as a haunted house film, that familiar theme becomes downright spooky. Poole might carry the film, but the true stars are director Rodrigo Gudino, cinematographer Samy Inayeh, and the incredible house that they rove about for about 80 minutes. The camera ominously crawls and creeps around to give the impression that itís being watched over by the eyes of godóor maybe something more malevolent. Oppressiveness is a key element for any haunted house movie, and The Last Will and Testament is downright suffocating at times. Thatís quite an impressive feat for a film that otherwise meanders and diverts quite often; it relies on atmosphere and mood to create impressions rather than a traditional plot. The formlessness is a bit frustrating at times, particularly when the demons literally manifest; itís a film that lends itself to varying interpretations of its actual events, but it succeeds in relaying the utter pain and regret thatís operating at its core.
Rosalindís house is cluttered with stuff, but one item in particular stands out in particular: Waterhouseís ďThe Lady of Shalott,Ēa painting inspired by Tennysonís poem that famously relays the story of a woman forced to remain in a tower and weave shades of reality. Leaving the tower invokes a curse that kills her and preserves her as a misunderstood work of art, and the title character here also represents entrapment and obfuscation. Or maybe Rosalind Leigh was just really into Pre-Raphaelite art. Itíd actually be one of the more conventional things among her interests considering she apparently belonged to a cult that worshiped angels, a bizarre obsession that actually seemed to yield demons instead, an appropriate mangling since the film is preoccupied with twisting and contorting good intentions into something heinous.
The same canít be said about the film itself; sometimes, these types of films only make for an interesting experiment, but Gudinoís debut effort successfully captures intense feelings of regret and despair. Itís a haunted house movie where its spirit truly doesnít feel at rest, even though it never re-appears as a ghost. After making its rounds on the festival circuit, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh has come to DVD thanks to Image Entertainment, who has put together a well-rounded disc that features a making-of featurette, a poster s and photo galleries, an interview with composer Mercan Dede, an audio commentary featuring Gudino, and one of the directorís short films, ďThe Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow.Ē Gudino is best known as the publisher of Rue Morgue, but, if this is any indication, heíll soon be making a name for himself as a filmmaker. With The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh, heís crafted an intriguing, chilling little puzzle box. Buy it!
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