The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh
Directed & Written by Rodrigo Gudiño
There are, broadly speaking, two types of haunted house stories: those in which some more or less innocent stranger gets caught in the middle of some festering saga of ancient wrong, and those in which the ectoplasmic chickens of past personal wrongdoing come home to roust some more or less guilty party from his or her comfort zone. The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh, audaciously, fits both descriptions – and neither of them.
Written and directed by Rue Morgue magazine publisher Rodrigo Gudiño, this subtle horror film eschews the full frontal theatrics one generally associates with the genre, opting instead for a psychological pincer movement that captures the viewer in a chilling crossfire of intergenerational dread and regret. Gudiño’s two-pronged tale examines the smashed remains of a once-loving mother and son relationship from both sides of the grave. The carefully constructed film couples a tensely dramatized presentation of antique collector Leon Leigh’s (Aaron Poole) angst-ridden night in the house he has just inherited with the grief-stricken voice-over lament of its recently-departed owner (the eponymous Rosalind Leigh, heartbreakingly brought to life-in-death by Vanessa Redgrave).
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Poole brings a wonderfully defiant vulnerability to his difficult role, which calls for him to play most of his scenes opposite the decaying relics of his troubled childhood, more recent audio-visual reminders of the forces that wrought such havoc in his family, and a variety of disembodied voices (some heard, and some only vaguely felt, on telephones, slipping around heavy doors and whispering plaintively from a place that Leon refuses to believe in). There are innumerable terrors lurking in the shadows of this Val Lewton-like dark night of the soul, but the worst of them emanate from the focal point of an angel statuette that doubles as the tombstone of Leon and Rosalind’s emotional connection.
An insightful study of the damaging effects of religious fanaticism, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh deviates sharply from the path signposted by genre classics like DePalma’s Carrie. By refusing to treat his angel-obsessed narrator as a pure-and-simple monster (and his protagonist as merely a victim of abuse), Gudiño is able to pose some unnervingly universal questions – i.e. how important is it that the ones we love believe as we do? How much responsibility do we bear for refusing to engage the imaginative lives of the people we care about? And can any of the stark satisfactions of certainty ever truly make up for missing out on the nebulous knowledge that only comes from reaching out to another?
– David Fiore