I posted a trailer for this film several months ago, after I realized that it was being directed by Rodrigo Gudiño, of Rue Morgue Magazine. Truth be told I wasn’t (and still am not) very familiar with that publication, but I really liked Gudiño’s short film The Facts in the Case of Mr. Hollow and wanted to see more in that vein.
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is an interesting little film (and I say little only because it’s quite short, clocking in at just 80 minutes, credits included). It has a great deal in common with Mr. Hollow both thematically and stylistically, which might seem strange given that the latter film is more of a glorified animated GIF than a film per se. But both deal with cults and the occult, both prominently feature the trappings of Christianity (implicitly darkened by the necessary existence of its demonic counterpart), and both feature a mystery (of sorts) to be deciphered (sort of) over the course of the fim.
Rosalind Leigh also features a similar swooping-camera effect in a few places. This technique works well enough with a static image like in Mr. Hollow, but in Rosalind Leigh it actually made me a bit dizzy.
The film centers on Leon, whose mother Rosalind has recently passed away and who must now settle her estate or something. Leon is in fact the only real character here; while there are a few other actors featured in video clips and quasi-hallucinatory scenes, and three or four people (one of them, I think, is supposed to be a computer recording) with whom Leon communicates exclusively by phone, the prodigal son (a heavily emphasized theme here) is pretty much alone on screen for the movie’s duration.
Rosalind’s house is positively full of bizarre bric-a-brac, most of it religious in nature, but much of it straight up cray-zay (e.g., a spear and pitchfork hanging on a wall; a giant misshapen statue that kind of looks like a child’s crayon drawing of an X Files alien; and I saw a samurai helmet at one point). You know, the kind of place I’ll eventually have, and wherein I’ll meet my appointed fate of being eaten by a ravenous horde of ghouls.
The house, in fact, is the best part of the film, and a character in its own right. Gudiño spends a lot of time showing us the details of the place: the camera will follow Leon into a room, but then, after the protagonist heads off in another direction, the camera will continue its slow swoop around the room, up staircases and down halls, until the viewer feels like s/he is actually exploring the place in all its Winchester House-like glory. Despite the aforementioned dizziness this may at times cause, it’s a neat effect that helps establish the house as a truly strange place.
The story is revealed partly through Rosalind’s narration–ably performed by Vanessa Redgrave–and Leon’s own wanderings and document-discoverings (I wonder if Mr. Gudiño is a survival horror fan?). There are also a couple of unfortunate telephone exchanges between Leon and a lady named Ana (his ex? his shrink? She tells us that she’s a doctor at one stage, but that doesn’t actually tell us much). These conversations are unfortunate because they provide far too much smug exposition in far too digestible a form (and if I had to pick one word for Charlotte Sullivan‘s voice only performance as Ana, it’d be smug).
The content of the story is compelling enough, much as Mr. Hollow‘s was. There are all kinds of cool possible satanic connections, and good believers gone astray, and a fairly creepy (minor spoiler) demon thing that stalks around and does the whole demon shtick like James Wan wishes he could (the Darth Maul demon from Insidious was just crap, I’m sorry).
Unfortunately there is simply not enough. The main issue is the length. I’m not sure why Rosalind Leigh wound up at eighty minutes. I know very little about the editing process, or how relationships with studios work; I’m sure there were lots of behind-the-scenes reasons that left us with one hour and twenty minutes when we really needed two full hours of narrative. Regardless, there’s too much unanswered here. And by unanswered, I suppose what I really mean is unaddressed. Ambiguity is a great thing in films, and horror, of course, can make good use of it. This is less ambiguous than it is confusing and, I’m sorry to say, somewhat incomplete. There’s also something to be said for not feeding the audience all the answers, but to do that successfully–to create a situation where the audience appreciates not having all the info, where that lack actually enhances the impact of the story–requires a kind of finesse that seems somewhat lacking here. We have a man, Leon, played by Aaron Poole (who does admirably given that 95% of the screen time is his). And we have a house. And we have creepy shit, and a vaguely Evangelical-ish Christian cult who believes in angels, and we have the issue of belief as such being hammered into us again and again and again. We learn that Leon resisted the cult’s pull and ran off to the big city, where I assume he waited tables and stripped to pay his way through med school. Then he came back and shit gets weird. The problem is, we don’t get quite enough of the connective tissue. Twenty or thirty more minutes would have made a world of difference here.
Also, Leon’s haircut makes me want to punch myself in the throat for ever having sung along with that one Genesis song that is the only one anybody remembers.
Rosalind Leigh is worth a watch. I may need to rewatch it, in fact, to really do it justice. Perhaps it requires more than one viewing to piece it all together. Anyway, it’s on Netflix now, so check it out. There are worse things you can do with eighty minutes. But you may want to spend twenty minutes or so afterwards with a pen and paper filling in the missing stuff.