“The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh” (2012)

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.

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Because he looks like Phil Collins. Jeeze.

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.

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SEE?? You were all like, “WTF, Phil Collins?” Shit be real. (ultimateclassicrock.com)

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16 thoughts on ““The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh” (2012)

  1. I enjoyed that short film when you recommended it to me, but I think I only enjoyed it as much as I did because of the brevity. I will try this, but I fully intend to get the time lost on it back from you if I dislike it.

  2. I’ll be completely honest, I fucking hated it. I can see what they were trying to do but really couldnt be bothered to figure it out for them.

    I was going to do a review but…fuck that. ANd i’m fuckin drunk.

    Nice write up tho!

  3. Loved this piece. I’ll give the movie a shot, even though I hate ambiguity, because I adore weird houses.

    Also, you’re dead-on about the Darth Maul makeup. (I thought I was the only one who noticed that.) And you didn’t need to add the final pic for me; I knew exactly who and what you were talking about as soon as I saw the movie still.

    • Thanks! Yeah, after the initial jump scare with Ol’ Darthy, the movie started to lose me pretty quick.

      I’m glad somebody got the Phil Collins bit. The mullet/widow peaks combo could not go unremarked.

  4. I watched this and found it quite creepy. Leon is an artist and his agent sold most of his artwork to one seller….his agent even says over the phone they dont as WHO is buying…as long as its selling. Turns out Leon’s mother is one the who bought Leon’s artwork to be close to him because she was very lonely. I didn’t like the part where the demon crawls on the bed tho. Its better to keep that creature in the shadows….more creepy that way. But unresolved as to what really happened to the mother……the demon killed her….how? why? I dunno

  5. I totally read the creature as changing form over time, every time we saw it. At first it looked more like a panther (as in the ad in the magazine, and his flashback to the candle game where it’s hanging out under the table) and later became more and more humanoid. At the last scene, when the mother says something to the effect of “Loneliness can become a monster” the creature pretty much looks more humanoid (her?) than it ever has before.

    This movie was a terrible trigger for me, as I watched it on a really bad bender of insomnia. The religious iconography, the needlepoint works that are featured-a lot of it bothered the shit out of me. The creature to me seemed to be at first the monster that was the mother’s religion, and finally a personification of her own guilt and vitriol at being abandoned. (Perhaps I read too into that…)

    • That’s an interesting reading, and you could be right. I sort of read it as primarily the emblem of the religion, which Leon ultimately “defeated” simply by refusing to believe. But you’re right, there’s definitely an important connection between Rosalind’s faith and her intense guilt (as a recovered Irish catholic [meaning no longer Catholic, but still Irish], I can vouch for the reality of that connection).

      • The movie left me with a lot of questions that went unanswered. I suppose we, the viewers were actually watching two stories at the same time.

        The first story, is where we meet Leon, who is actually just a fantasy. His existence in the movie was made up by his mother. She created his involvement as to what she wanted to believe.

        Secondly, it’s quite possible that Leon actually went into the house, but I believe he only stayed for a short time and then put it up for sale.

        Perhaps i’m wrong, but to me the message that the director intended to make was that the main character, Leon, is wrestling with the issue of faith. As he enters the home he is bombarded with religious artifacts which cause him to test what he does and doesn’t believe in.

        As an Irish Catholic myself, the movie strengthened my faith (as it left me pondering as to what side to believe in). Kudos on the music that was selected…..it was brilliant!

        P.S. the black cat symbolized darkness/lack of faith…..it killed the mother because she “lost” faith in her son’s return.

      • That’s another good reading. I suspect you’re probably right on all counts: all the ambiguity was deliberate, and Leon’s involvement, on some level, was probably only partially “real.” It’s also significant that all the artifacts he confronted were the very ones he’d already sold off, which Rosalind had bought back.

        I still feel as though the filmmakers walked the line between pleasant mystery and straight-up missing information, and came out more on the latter side. I really think a little more running time would have helped rectify that, bringing the lack of info back around to a good thing, and eliminating the sense that chunks of narrative were accidentally omitted. But of course, that’s just me–and maybe I need to give it a second viewing.

  6. According to the director the son never comes home. The movie is about his mother ‘s ghost imagining his return. She haunts the house awaiting her son as she did in life. She abused him emotionally as a child with her fanatic cult religious beliefs and drove him away from her because of it. The movie is about her loneliness and regrets as she grows old and dies alone .

    • That’s kind of cool, but I sort of feel it shouldn’t take director commentary to clarify a point like that. Perhaps on a second viewing it’d be more clear, but I just don’t feel that inclined to give it one.

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