Have any of you ever sat down to check out a movie because you saw a trailer for it that just gave you the creeps? Well sure you have; it’s a staple of our mutual obsession. Having done that, have you ever been disappointed with said movie? You bet your ass you have; sadly, this too is an all-too-familiar pitfall of being a horror fan. Now, has that ever happened, but then you couldn’t get the movie outta your head, and the more you thought about it, the more you began to feel like mebbe you didn’t really see the whole thing, conceptually? That perhaps there was more to it, and it just took your brain a little extra time to process?
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh, Rodrigo Gudiño’s freshman feature, is a creepy little flick that elicited that frustrated/ponderous feeling from me. I was impressed with the dark, sorrowful feeling that the film had (perfect for the kind of ghostly tale that it is), and I found the story interesting and the acting solid (Vanessa Redgrave’s narration gave it an appropriately gothic feel, and also inspired a kind of melancholy all in itself). There’s some CGI that I can’t say is bad, but it is CGI; its use here is effective, but still a tad obvious. Nothing at all for gorehounds, but loads of atmosphere if that’s your cup o’ tea.
We’re introduced (through that haunting voice-over I mentioned; a mother speaking to her son) to a family obviously cursed with strife; the introduction is peppered with news of family tragedy and loneliness, and the stage is set for a decided tone of despair. The son, Leon, returns to his old home, apparently after his estranged mother’s death. He finds the home a kind of museum of odd artifacts, many that once belonged to him (it’s implied that he’s a dealer in antiquities); his mother apparently bought up his collection. As he makes his way through the detritus of his mother’s life and his own past, he’s haunted first by his personal memories, then startled by evidence that his mother’s obsessions went far beyond what he originally knew. Strong religious overtones and the concept of childhood fears coming back to claim you are prevalent throughout the film, but the narrative is balanced and well-told. The story unfolds slowly, the dread becoming omnipresent as each new clue is revealed, but you want to know more; the foreboding darkness takes second place to the curiosity that it creates…
And I can really say no more; I won’t deprive you of the unraveling the mystery for yourself; that statement, however, is where the aforementioned frustration comes into play. As the film went on, I wound up with a lot of questions, but scant few answers. The story builds, the tension grows…and then, it seems to just end. It just dropped off a cliff and left me not knowing if I was shot, fucked, powder-burned or snake bit. I’ll summarize my initial viewing in thirty words or less:
“Hey, this movie’s pretty good… I’m into the story…I’m in it…ooh, that’s kinda spooky….whoa, I wonder what’s up with THAT?…I’m in it…I…what the HELL?!”
After I got over my initial disappointment, however, and my brain had flipped it over a few times, I began to respect the twist that the film had; it’s a concept I’ve never seen done quite this way before. I could reference some films that it reminded me of, but that would be spoiling things somewhat. Suffice to say, although there are cinematic precedents for the type of story that it is, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh puts its own stamp of originality on things.
The film is moody, atmospheric and beautifully shot; it has a unique feel and a story that I was impressed with. It’s a slow-burn, and the ending may stymie you at first glance, but give it a chance to cook in your mind before you count it out. It’s not what many would consider to be a traditional horror film (and by definition, it’s not; it doesn’t seek to horrify), and thus won’t appeal to everyone (what scary movie does? ), but if you’re a fan of spooky films like The Haunting or The Skeleton Key, I believe you’ll come away from this one glad that you watched it.