Directed by Rodrigo Gudiño
One of the most striking aspects of Rodrigo Gudiño’s The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is the prevalence of a voice-over, performed by the titular character and voiced by veteran actress Vanessa Redgrave. More than a meandering and lazy means of exposition (a category voice-overs tend to fall into), it acts almost as a second narrative, providing context for the actions unfolding on the screen while drawing you into an incredibly sad tale that is so powerful and so emotionally resonating that it’s worthy of standing on its own.
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh follows Leon, an antiques collector who has recently inherited his deceased mother’s house. Killed by her own hand, Rosalind Leigh was a member of a mysterious cult that worshiped angels, a cult that may have indirectly lead to her death. The house is filled with angelic iconography – statues, pictures, and secret altars – and as Leon takes stock of everything, a series of strange occurrences begin to occur that suggest his mother is reaching out to him with an important message.
The film’s two narratives twist and turn around each other like a double helix, never intersecting yet connected by a theme that sees it reach heights rarely attained in contemporary horror. On the surface, it’s a tale of lost faith and the nature of belief; but digging even deeper, it’s so much more than that. Gudiño never attempts to dumb it down for the audience, preferring to let the imagery and subject matter take on a life of its own. Its many layers and ambiguous themes invite a multitude of interpretations concerning not just the ending, but its overall message, resulting in a film that will leave you scratching your head in the best possible way.
By utilizing Vanessa Redgrave primarily as a voice-over – she’s seen only through photographs and a brief scene at the end – Gudiño not only breaks an unspoken rule of horror (voice-overs rarely, if ever, work), but he does so in a way that makes the film incredibly haunting in its execution, setting the mood from moment one and continuing until its final seconds. Her voice is given added poignancy through beautiful cinematography courtesy of Samy Inayeh, who guides the camera deftly through the house’s halls and rooms, showcasing the stunning set design and allowing the imposing nature of the house to achieve its desired effect.
Aaron Poole pulls out an impressive performance as a man faced with demons from his past, while Redgrave’s voice shines throughout in the most sinister of ways. Full of emotion, passion, and sorrow, she serves not just as the voice of Leon’s mother, but as the voice of the house. Her sorrowful voice echoes off the walls and religious iconography that litters the home, revealing the spirit of a woman trapped within a life that tore her apart from her son. It calls to mind Danvers State Hospital in Brad Anderson’s Session 9, both serving as abstract symbols of isolation and fear; each house is more than a set piece, it’s an essential part of the film’s narrative, and it deserves its own credit.
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is an eminently re-watchable film. It never panders and never falls into convention, even when it seamlessly sheds the solemnity of its religious themes in favor of a more traditional creature feature. These themes and ideas are never fully realized, but they’re not trying to be. Much like Leon’s attempts at putting together the spiritual puzzle left behind by his other, the film forces you to put the pieces together yourself, except that each time you do, you get a new picture. For those who love their horror cerebral and truly original, you can’t do much better than this.
4 1/2 out of 5