Friday, May 10, 2013

THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH (Review)

THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH (2013)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by Rodrigo Gudiño

Starring Aaron Poole, Vanessa Redgrave, Julian Richings, Charlotte Sullivan, Stephen Eric Mcintyre, Mitch Markowitz
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"It's quiet. Too quiet."

We've all heard that cheesy movie line at least once in our lives or something approximating it. When it comes to the topic of contemplative, slow-burn horror films, I for one enjoy a little quietness in my horror films. Not every fright film needs to be big, loud, and bloated with smash cuts and shaky on-the-run POV footage. But then again, there's also such a thing as a horror film being too quiet. The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh, the debut film from Rue Morgue publisher Rodrigo Gudiño, is so quiet that it might as well be whispering. It barely makes an impression, and when it does it's almost impossible to make out.

Whatever you do, don't blink.
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh opens with some real cinematic promise. As the dearly departed Rosalind Leigh, Vanessa Redgrave reels us in with an eerily disembodied opening narration about death, the frailty of faith, and the crushing weight of loss while a roaming camera creeps over her beautiful old house adorned with a staggering collection of antiques and relics including broken dolls, stained-glass windows, gargoyle statues, suits of armor, and most importantly a host of stone angels. Into this house steps Leon Leigh (Aaron Poole) who has inherited his mother's home after a very long period of estrangement. Settling himself uneasily into the home he left long ago after his father's death and his own subsequent rejection of his mother's Faith, Leon comes to realize that his mother's soul may still linger in the house and her shrine to a mysterious angel cult may hold the key (figuratively and literally) to her final urgent message. Eerie happenings, visions, and general weirdness ensue. What starts as a very (and I mean very) slow burn of dread eventually turns into a fizzle of indifference as the film becomes lost in its own self-indulgent camera work and a ill-advised, prematurely induced "twist" ending that is ambiguous to the point of rendering the whole plot moot.

Home is where the haunt is
As an atheist with deeply buried agnostic tendencies, I found myself superficially hooked by the beautiful yet creepy Christian iconography in which The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is steeped. Even in my Sunday School days, I've never found the concept of angels very comforting, and when they're rendered so absolutely and emphatically in stone statues they're particularly unnerving. Like angels, Faith itself is a terrifying proposition for the atheist, as it is for Leon, who steadfastly rejects his mother's posthumous pleas to BELIEVE. Exquisitely excessive set dressings and pitch-perfect sound design help drive home the spiritual subtext. If only the script had more substance and the story a more judicious pace.

While I contemplated napping, we watch Leon go on tapping,
forever gently rapping, tapping on his small key board

30 minutes in, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh proves itself to be a substantial disappointment. The story is fraying at the seams because it's so thinly stretched. The pace is sluggish, to put it nicely. From the very start, the film's baffling attempt to avoid substance while allowing Gudiño to overkill the mood and atmosphere provides the audience with enough rope to hang themselves once they've reach their limit on the number of times they can sit through another scene of Leon walking around the house following sounds that go nowhere and looking at things that seem to bear only fragmentary meaning. Clearly, a healthy dose of mystery can help instill a film with intrigue and a life beyond the frame, but you need to make something happen in the frame for us to care about first. Film is a visual medium for telling stories, after all. No one's going to accuse The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh of being visually dull. It's just that pesky story part that really needs work.

I bet Leon really misses hanging with his mom
I don't understand why The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is so grudgingly slow. You could cut a solid 20 minutes of this film, and it could still establish a satisfyingly contemplative tone and preserve its most effective creepy moments and confrontations, as sparse as they may be. Even the film's theme about Faith and loneliness could retain enough presence to justify cutting a lot of the repetitive scenes and languidly long camera pans. Then why all the filler? Oh, why ask why? 

Put your faith in this: despite a thoughtful idea and beautiful production values, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh will test your patience.

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