JULY 11, 2013
Sometimes a movie is worth seeing not because it's full on great, but (and this goes for horror in particular) because it's doing something ambitious and unique, so as long as it's WATCHABLE and professionally done, it deserves to be seen by fans of its genre. Such is the case with The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh - it's not the best movie of the year or anything, but it's definitely one of the most interesting and unusual horror films I've seen in quite a while (and that's still a lot - I've only reviewed about a third of what I've watched since "quitting"), and thus comes highly recommend to more mature fans.
And I don't mean to insult younger horror fans by saying that; while I DO feel that they might be bored (the movie is almost completely free of "action"), the real problem is that I think you need to be a bit older to appreciate the point of the movie, which deals more with regret and loneliness than typical horror elements. Our hero is an estranged son who comes back to his mother's house after she died in order to collect the objects he wants to sell as antiques (he's a dealer) before selling off the property, only to discover that his mom - who he hadn't spoken to in years - had bought all of his wares herself, hoping that it would reconnect them. Kind of a bummer premise, right? Granted, there are some haunted house style elements and a mystery involving her death and the angel cult (!) she was part of, but the focus remains on her despair and his growing realization that she was right.
See, as we learn over time, the reason he left is because he didn't buy into her afterlife beliefs - no such thing as angels or heaven. "You're there, and then you're not," he says, and so of course part of the movie concerns whether or not he was right. Being a genre film you can probably guess which side the movie takes, but there's more to it than that, which I'll let you discover for yourself as the movie has a final twist that hammers home the dramatic part of writer/director Rodrigo Gudino's film. It's a bit subtle - I actually missed it the first time around (I watched it twice, as this was one of my Netflix assignments and as usual I got caught up watching the movie and forgot to note if anyone smoked or swore - two things I need to mark down for my assigned titles), and it turned what was already kind of a sad movie into a full blown gutpunch. If you're feeling the least bit guilty about not spending enough time with your own mom (and I am, but that's what happens when you move to the other side of the country), this movie will drive you over the edge. Make the phone call or Sunday afternoon visit BEFORE watching!
But, admittedly, as much as I appreciated the movie's unusual pacing and storyline (someone needs to make a full blown horror movie about a cult that worships angels instead of Satan!), it DOES get a bit too slow for its own good. Vanessa Redgrave is 2nd billed as the mother, but she only appears in a shot or two (she was primarily cast for her voice, as the mother narrates chunks of the movie from what appears to be a letter to her son) - and that is indeed the 2nd most prominent character in the movie. We never see a single other person in the film proper until the very end, just a few voices on the phone or people in a film that he watches about the cult. Actor Aaron Poole (who looks like the similarly named Aaron Paul from the side, oddly enough) has the entire film to himself, and while he's a good enough actor to handle the task, the script doesn't have him doing all that much for most of the runtime. For example, with 20 minutes to go including (the very slow) credits, we see him call tech support for the house's security system so that he can access the surveillance footage after seeing "something" outside - the entire call (including being on hold) is shown, which is just padding it a bit to get it up to its bare minimum feature length of 80 minutes. With trimming (the girlfriend, for example) and tightening, Gudino could have made a 30 minute "short" film that would get the prime slot at genre festivals' short blocks, and everyone would be blown away - as a feature, it takes maybe a bit too much patience at times.
Needless to say, there are no deleted scenes on the disc, as I suspect they used every frame that was shot to get the movie to its runtime. However, there are some fine bonus features, including a short film from Gudino (so he DOES know how to make one! I kid, I kid) that I couldn't quite follow but had a very interesting approach to "live action" (and also featured Julian Richings, Canadian genre actor icon who also appears briefly in the feature). Of most interest is the refreshingly straight forward commentary by Gudino (moderated by someone whose name escapes me, but he's got a delightfully thick Scottish accent), where he doesn't play the obnoxious "I leave it up to you to decide!" card with regards to the movie's mysteries - he actually explains the ending almost right off the bat, and points out a few other little things I had missed. He even says that people who listen to commentaries probably want answers, so maybe he can teach a class on such things as he's clearly more tuned into his audience than many of his peers. It seems that the track was recorded as a podcast of sorts, so he's not too screen specific as it appears you can listen to it on its own and get what he's saying, so there's not a lot of technical info about the production (though I was surprised to discover that the house was made up of several different locations - it's pretty seamless onscreen!). The making of is also worth a look, as its production team clearly wanted to ape the offbeat style of the movie rather than deliver typical EPK bullshit, though I didn't find much use for the interview with the composer, mainly because I am a complete idiot when it comes to music and thus didn't fully understand what he was saying. If you're a composer or music buff, however - it's one of the longer composer special features I've seen in a while, so there's that. Some photo galleries round things out.
At first I didn't know what to make of the movie, but as it went on (and then on my second viewing) I found a lot to admire. I can't deny I was a bit bored at times, but I was also drawn in and even kind of lulled by its melancholy tone and admirable "no generic horror bullshit" approach. Give it a chance; I honestly can't think of another "horror" movie that is anything like it - the closest I could think of was Premonition, the underrated Sandra Bullock thriller, as it also focused on how letting a relationship crumble can have depressing (and slightly scary!) consequences, but that would be selling it short as that movie was mainly more interested in being a thriller. This is the real deal - I've asked for more dramatic horror and got my wish!
What say you?