While it’s normally admirable for most horror films in this day in age to play out as slow burns that mete out minor details to the audience over time, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh takes it to wholly dull, but undoubtedly good looking extremes. The feature directorial debut of Rue Morgue Magazine founding editor and publisher Rodrigo Gudiño wants so desperately to be a psychological thriller in the vein of Poe’s The Raven or The Shining that it stacks its deck with an abundance of style and an economy of words. Sadly, that economic leaning also extends to the story and character at the centre of it.
Leon (Aaron Poole) is an antique dealer that’s recently inherited the house of his deceased and estranged mother who turned so far to God in her later days that she ended up joining an anti-atheist cult known as God’s Messengers. Simply being a non-believer and staying in his mother’s house, Leon seems to have awoken terrible spirits that want to punish him for his transgressions.
That’s really about it in terms of plot, which would be fine if there was anything of substance to really chew on here. Following a pretty great montage narrated by Vanessa Redgrave as the voice of the deceased mother reading the letter she left behind to her son that takes us through the house the first time, the problems set in almost immediately. Almost as soon as Leon arrives the film spends approximately half its running time acting like a production design catalogue. We watch Leon walk through the house almost unendingly as the camera lovingly gazes upon creepy china dolls, organ pipes, ornate hand carved wooden doors, and cheekily foreboding needlepoint messages.
None of this production design and longing attention to detail has no payoff since Gudiño pretty much abandons it halfway through to include ominous VHS tapes on TVs that turn themselves on and a half-assed monster movie about a creature that’s “come down from the woods.” By this point, since Poole is the only person on screen the entire film (all other members of the cast show up on the aforementioned videos or simply put in voice work) and his character hasn’t been developed at all it becomes impossible to care or even be interested about this man’s crisis of faith. The dust covered doilies beneath the knickknacks being captured here have more depth and substance than anything in the script.
The tone that seemingly wants to be achieved here is something akin to hypnotic or pensive, and the real stars of the film are cinematographer Samy Inayeh and production designer Jason McQuarrie. Their rigorous efforts are appreciated because without them the film would essentially be a blank screen. Compare to similarly themed slow, psychological burns like Sinister or the as-yet-to-be-released-in-Canada Lords of Salem, this looks like the thinnest of gruels. There’s precious little worth seeing or hearing in the film. It’s like the dullest music video possible. All style and substance that thinks it’s saying something, but you can’t stay awake long enough to listen to it.
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Lee screens across Canada as part of the Sinister Cinema series at Cineplex this coming Thursday. It will play several added dates at the Cineplex Yonge and Dundas throughout the month of May.