Judge Gordon Sullivan is leaving his lint collection to science.
She will not rest in peace.
I don't know where it started, but there's always been a lot of overlap between writing and making movies. Whether its Serge Eisenstein writing books because the government forbade him to make films or the French New Wave being film critics before becoming filmmakers, the relationship is there. I'm less sure about the relationship between publishing and filmmaking, but the guy behind Rue Morgue Magazine, Rodrigo Gudiño, decided to give it a go. The result (after several short films) is his feature-length debut The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh. It's a solid choice for fans of atmospheric horror.
Facts of the Case
Leon (Aaron Poole, Small Town Murder Songs) didn't have the greatest relationship with his mother (Vanessa Redgrave, Howards End) before she died. He's an antiques dealer, and when he inherits her house, he decides to explore it for appraisal. What he discovers is that his mother was involved in the worship of a strange cult of angels, and not everything is as it seems.
One thing that fascinates me is understanding stories (at least in films) as responses to a specific challenge. Sure, it's wonderful when a genius auteur has unlimited time and budget to bring his or her specific vision to light. I'm even more fascinated by those films that make narrative decisions that have everything to do with the constraints of budget or locations. Many low-budget films try to go the Hollywood route, with a relatively large cast and a typical story, but end up looking cheap because that's where all their money goes. More successful films often make their lower budgets a virtue, and find a story by paring down their elements rather than trying to ape Hollywood.
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is one such film. It's a low-budget fright flick, and rather than try to go big, this film could almost be a stage play, it's so spare. We've got one major character on screen, a voiceover providing a counterpart, and a few scattered phone conversations. Add in some flashbacks, and you've got a whole movie whose running time is largely spent watching a character explore a house.
There was no hope for this gamble working at all without two things. The first is that the house itself better be worth exploring. On that score, The Last Will and Testament succeeds. The house is almost another character, with an American Horror Story-worthy exterior, and an interior stuffed with visually compelling artifacts. With multiple levels to explore and lots of nooks and- crannies to get lost in, it's a house that's worth a little exploration. Of course, it helps that it's old and dark; this is a horror movie, after all.
The second element that Last Will needs to be pitch-perfect is the voiceover. Many viewers are rightfully suspicious of the technique; it's too often used to paper over poor scripting. When it's done right and works as an element conceived from the beginning, a voiceover track can be very powerful. Last Will succeeds in giving us a good reason for a voiceover; this is the narration of an absent spirit having a kind of one-sided conversation with her son. It has tragic overtones and a fantastic sense of longing. It helps, of course to have an award-winning actress deliver the narration, and Vanessa Redgrave is the perfect choice. Her voice sounds weathered and aching for the conversation she must have, even if it's to be one-sided.
As the publisher of a major horror magazine, Gudiño knows a thing or two about producing a worthy DVD release, and he rises to the challenge with this disc. Overall, the 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer does a great job presenting the cinematography. Detail is strong, and colors are well saturated. Black levels seem pretty consistent and deep. The deepest blacks can show a bit of artefacting, especially when the camera is moving, but it's not distracting. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is equally impressive. This is a movie that relies on a clear voiceover (which it gets on this track) and effective atmosphere. The track makes good use of the surrounds and space to create a rich and creepy soundscape.
Extras start with a commentary by Gudiño, who is understandably excited about his first feature-length film. He's joined by Stewart Andrews, who is there to offer a sounding board and interlocutor. We get even more info out of the half-hour making-of featurette that interviews most of the crew to talk largely about the film's look. We also get a shorter featurette on the film's score. One of Gudiño earlier short films, "The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow," is also included, which is a nice touch. Finally, we get a gallery of promotional material.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's not all roses in Roasalind Leigh. Those looking for gorier, more rapid-fire pleasures will be disappointed here. This is a slow-creep kind of movie, and it requires patience. Though I think the voiceover is an appropriate choice, it still has the potential to grate, and watching a single guy wander around a house will be a tough sell for a lot of viewers.
It can also be a bit weird to listen to the voiceover of The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh if you've spent any time watching Call the Midwife. In both cases, Vanessa Redgrave does the voiceover (though she actually appears, however briefly, in Last Will, unlike Midwife), and the effect can be kind of jarring. I'm sure that Last Will and Call the Midwife don't have a lot of overlap in viewership, but those who've watched one or the other should be forewarned.
For those who prize atmosphere and creep factor over gore and jump scares, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is worth a watch. With a solid presentation and some decent extras, fans can even enjoy a bit of replay value as the house gives up more secrets on subsequent viewings.
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