Directed By: Rodrigo Gudiño
Starring: Aaron Poole, Vanessa Redgrave, Julian Richings
Looking at a “user-rated” horror movie with a 3-star rating is not only commonplace on Netflix, it’s almost expected on everyone’s favorite late-night streaming service. Unending troves of b-horror schlock, badly acted slasher wannabes, and of course, the goddamned golden age of the “found footage” flick are never in short supply. Once in a while, an unusual diamond-in-the-rough glimmers in this otherwise dull sea of throw away creepers that grabs my attention enough to warrant a review (although I should be reviewing them all – but trust me, I’m sparing you). Rodrigo Gudiño’s feature-length debut, ‘The Last Will And Testament of Rosalind Leigh’, is indeed one of those diamonds…albeit an incredibly slow-burning diamond, but a diamond nonetheless.
There is really no new way to start a “haunted house” movie nowadays, and if there is, I haven’t seen it. The usual setup, be it a tragic or untimely end to the home’s inhabitants or a demonic presence that just won’t go away usually fills the genre’s formulaic beaker; and yes, while tried and more or less true, it is a formula that has incredibly over-stayed its welcome. Seeming to know and avoid said stock intro, Gudiño shoots an eerily effective introduction that sets the tone for the film’s overall somber theme, one of a lonely mother (Redgrave) whose son was absent during her later years and ultimately, her death. Long shots and smooth camerawork are cinematographer, Sammy Inayeh’s specialty. As we explore Rosalind’s beautifully gothic-style abode, we slowly learn that the final years of her life where ones of overwhelming loneliness and a fear of something not-quite explained.
Rosalind’s estranged son, Leon (Poole), arrives at the house after her funeral to take a look around as it’s made known that Rosalind has left the entire estate to Leon, which seems to be more of a burden to him than anything else. Subtle, yet direct hints early on point to Leon not having the happiest of childhoods. Rosalind appears to have raised Leon in an overbearingly religious manner that not only involved a heavy reliance upon various “protective” idols and statues, but what seems to be some sort of local “cult” that was able to evoke ritualistic powers. While a lot of what’s going on here is left up to the viewer’s imagination, strong evidence points to Leon being a scared and highly insecure child due to some sort of fear that his mother instilled into him at a young age. It is also suggested that it might also be nothing more than a kid who rebelled against his upbringing and is now haunted by a neglectful relationship towards his now-deceased mother.
What really works in this film is its gradual descent into a truly frightful moment midway through and an almost masterful use of “fear of the dark” throughout. All I can say is that you will probably rewind a few scenes, swearing up and down that you saw “something”. When Leon enters the home, it’s instantly conveyed that there is something more to this place than just bad memories. There is almost a power that resides here and it is one that seems to easily wear on Leon’s already fragile psyche. Again, the message seems to ask the viewer, “Is it the house, or is it Leon?” This theme isn’t forced and it all comes together nicely as the film (82 mins) comes to a close.
Short? Yes. Dull? At times. Creepy? Absolutely! After watching ‘The Last Will And Testament of Rosalind Leigh’ with several in-film rewinds, I’m still drawn by its excellent use of creating an almost suffocating environment of fear without over-doing the genre clichés.
If you’re in the mood for an honest haunted house movie without the usual jump-scares and sex-crazed teens running up and down the stairs in search of a way out, ‘The Last Will And Testament of Rosalind Leigh’ might give you the fix you’re looking for!