I am doing the 31 Days of Horror Challenge. Every day in October, I will watch a different horror film I have never seen before and write about it here on the blog.
On the surface, there is a lot to admire about The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh. It’s an independently made horror film that values atmosphere and character building over cheap scares. It has a strong visual style that speaks to a lot of care put into planning the complicated camera movements. The lead is a solid actor (Aaron Poole) who looks like someone you would actually know in real life and not a glorified Abercrombie & Fitch model trying to be a movie star. Yes, I found a lot to admire about the film. But admiration doesn’t necessarily translate into a recommendation.
Vanessa Redgrave “stars” as Rosalind Leigh. In reality, her voice stars in the film as she narrates large portions of the story from beyond the grave. Following her death, her adult son Leon (Poole) inherits her home and its contents. As we learn from Rosalind’s narration, she and Leon had not seen each other in years. When he was just a child, Leon’s father joined a cult and committed suicide. After that, Leon turned his back on Rosalind’s devout Christian faith, causing a deep rift that was never repaired.
Upon entering Rosalind’s home as an adult, Leon finds it to be crowded with statues, suits of armor, religious icons, and other assorted knick-knacks. Frustrated, Leon calls his broker (it’s not clear if Leon is an artist or antiques collector) to discover that every piece he has ever sold was actually purchased by his mother.
As Leon explores the house, strange things happen. The electricity proves unreliable, items appear in places they weren’t before, a hidden staircase is discovered in Rosalind’s bedroom, and a strange creature is lurking around the outside of the home. But are all these things actually happening or is Leon suffering from hallucinations?
Leon is shown to be an unreliable character through which to see the film. When stressed or frightened, he takes medication. He has a woman on speed-dial who might be a former girlfriend or wife (their relationship is never made clear), but now acts as an emergency therapist, talking him down from panic attacks. Of course, while we see the film through Leon’s eyes, we are told what is happening by Rosalind’s voice-over. There is no indication that her point-of-view is any more accurate.
There is a lot of promise in the script and direction by Rodrigo Gudiño, but despite a good performance by Poole, the decision to stick him in the house without anyone else to play off is ultimately a drain of energy. While he does have the occasional phone conversation, long stretches of the film are simply Leon walking through the house, looking confused or frightened. While I give Gudiño credit for avoiding the cheap exposition of having Leon talk his thoughts out loud when no one is around, there is no real story to hold interest.
The film feels like a 75-minute first act. A mystery is teased, Rosalind’s voice-over interrupts every now and again to fill in the gaps in her troubled relationship with Leon—and eventually the final days before her death, and Leon discovers hints of something sinister that may be haunting the house. Then Leon makes a sudden decision and the movie comes to an abrupt end. Rosalind speaks a final line via voice-over that I suppose was meant to be chilling, but just comes across as glum.
For all the atmosphere the film tries to create through stylish camera work and an over-abundance of set decoration, it never conjures the kind of dread it seems to be aiming for. Poole is an appealing performer, but he’s stranded with a nonexistent story. By the end of the film, Rosalind’s overwrought voice-over and the melodramatic score overwhelmed anything of interest on the screen and made me realize just how bored I was.
Here’s a trailer featuring a lot of freaky imagery that didn’t make it’s way into the film:
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