Director/Screenplay – Rodrigo Gudiño, Producer – Marco Pecota, Photography – Samy Inayeh, Music – Mercan Dede, Visual Effects Supervisor – Anthony Scott Burns, Creature Supervisor – Marcus Alqueres, Makeup Effects – Form & Dynamics (Design Supervisor – David Scott), Production Design – Jason McQuarrie. Production Company – Rue Morgue Cinema/Someone at the Door Productions/Telefilm Canada
Aaron Poole (Leon Leigh/Voice of Surveillance Expert), Vanessa Redgrave (Voice of Rosalind Leigh), Stephen Eric McIntyre (Preacher), Charlotte Sullivan (Voice of Anna), Julian Richings (Jonah Rahn/Johannes Rahn), Mitch Markowitz (Voice of Communication Coach)
Leon Leigh returns home from Africa following the death of his mother Rosalind. He wanders through the house where he grew up, which is overflowing with bric-a-brac, curios and religious icons. He thinks there is another presence in the house, something that is possibly moving things. He then sees an unearthly creature in the garden. The creature starts to batter at the door and then enters the house.
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is the feature-length directorial debut of Rodrigo Gudiño. Gudiño is best known as the founder and editor of Rue Morgue magazine, a bimonthly horror prozine that has been published out of his Toronto homeground since 1997. Rue Morgue has grown in popularity in recent years, including expanding to Rue Morgue Radio, a radio program/podcast and the Rue Morgue Festival of Fear convention that began in 2004. Gudiño went onto direct three short films The Eyes of Edward James (2006), The Demonology of Desire (2007) and The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow (2009), which gained a reasonable international profile and a number of awards.
The surprise about The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is that Rodrigo Gudiño chooses to make an old-fashioned ghost story. Moreover, it is one where he chooses to eschew the pop-up effects variety of the modern haunted house film in favour of a ghost story that rests in psychological spaces, where the hauntings are ambiguous and often seem to be as much in the protagonist’s imagination as any outward manifestations – an approach that harkens back to The Innocents (1961). The first thirty minutes of the film almost entirely consist of nothing but Aaron Poole wandering around the house.
The other unique thing that Gudiño does is to make the film essentially a single-person show where Aaron Poole is the only actor on screen. There are several other names on the cast list but they are either voice parts only (as in the case of Vanessa Redgrave) or else are figures on a videotape he is watching. The only other horror film to pull such an effect was the famous Zuni fetish doll episode of Trilogy of Terror (1975). The house itself proves to be a triumph of art direction. You watch the film for the background where the scenery is cluttered to overflow with paintings, furniture, statuettes of angels and antiques in every available inch of frame. It feels like the production had staged a raid of every antique store in Toronto.
Rodrigo Gudiño does eventually pull his punches and with unnerving effect. There is the intensely uncanny moment where Aaron Poole is asleep and sees a pair of glowing eyes in the dark and then a hand emerges out of the shadows and points to the phrase ‘Faith is Fragile’ on the wall. Mostly it is a film of very ambiguous effect – angel statues that seem to open their eyes on the tv screen or move position from where they are. Indeed, for a time you wonder if this is one of the Weeping Angels episodes of Doctor Who (2005– ), while the strange creatures that start turning up in the garden keep making you think of Lady in the Water (2006). In fact, what we have feels more like an experimental indie film than it does a traditional work of genre horror or a ghost story. The most overt horror scene is the one where the creature from the garden comes into the bedroom, crawls along the ceiling and reaches down to lick Aaron Poole’s face but such an overt manifestation almost seems out of place amid the ambiguous mood that has been established elsewhere.
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh eventually reaches a twist ending, although I am not entirely sure if I followed it. [PLOT SPOILERS]. It is a reversal of what we are seeing akin to the one pulled in The Sixth Sense (1999) and especially The Others (2001). It is also one that seems to have left most audiences puzzled. What I took to be happening is that Aaron Poole’s return to the house was merely a fantasy of him doing so being had by his late mother’s spirit. She was someone haunted by loneliness after he left such that she hung herself but in death her spirit still clings to the hope of his return and that everything we just saw was her imagining him doing so. This proves an interesting if difficult to decipher reversal of expectation. It is also one where the presentation of events through Aaron Poole’s eyes as a traditional ghost story before arriving at such a reversal cannot help but seem overly contrived once the twist is known. Moreover, it never fully explains what the creatures from the garden are meant to be. The impression I got was that they are allegorical creatures that represented the feelings of despair and loneliness eating away at Vanessa Redgrave’s mother.