The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh (2012) ***
Dir. Rodrigo Gudiño
Starring: Aaron Poole, Vanessa Redgrave, Julian Richings
Review By Greg Klymkiw
A voice from the dead - at times determined, at others tremulous - cascades through the large, dark and cluttered house as if it were a living, breathing, moving thing. It is as much a will and testament as it is a warning - infused with portent - rendered for the benefit of one who's been gone for too long, but has now appeared to both claim and dispense with a lifetime of worldly goods.
You, Sir, will spend the night.
This is perhaps not the wisest move when, in life, you broke away from your mother for the longest time and have returned, after her death, to profit from an antique-filled treasure trove. You're riddled with memories of a difficult childhood past, a strained relationship, a fundamentalist - nay, downright fanatical upbringing. As much as you want to rid yourself of all the things that bring back flashes of a pain long-repressed, your mere presence in this, your recently deceased mother's house, infuses you with second thoughts, upon second thoughts.
You will slowly seek truth, but if the truth finds you first, it could kill you.
And, dear sir, there appears to be a creature you don't want to mess with.
Suffice it to say that Rue Morgue Magazine's founder/publisher Rodrigo Gudiño has crafted an unexpectedly restrained genre picture for his feature length debut as a director. Restraint in horror can be a very good thing and The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is nothing if not restrained. Fans used to a preponderance of gore, lightning bolt pacing and an emphasis upon cheap shock tactics will be less than enthralled, but if patient, many of the film's rewards will creep up on them and bite them most indelicately on the ass.
That said and in spite of the picture's considerable virtues, it would only be fair to point out that the film is saddled with a few elements that don't quite gel. In terms of narrative and pace, the film takes a profound dip in its middle portion. We're treated to a slow, measured and riveting first act and a final act that delivers very nicely in the drawer-filling department. Part of the problem stems, I think, in Gudiño's screenplay. Not adequately tying the central character Leon (Aaron Poole) to his late Mother's mania (or at least rooting it more firmly within the mise-en-scene) is something the film has a hard time shaking. This is one of the causes for the movie to sag in its second act.
Another problem is the house itself. An exterior shot reveals a standard and seemingly (or at least relatively) modern suburban home. Once inside, the decor of the structure itself shrieks modern or at least, modern reno. As well, many of the set decorations and props feel out of place - either in and of themselves or within the context of the interior's physical structure and look. Given the character of Rosalind Leigh herself, the "antique pieces" are not (at least for this fella') reflective enough of who we think she is. When Leon steps into that house, we expect, but do not experience the kind of bygone atmosphere necessary for us to check our thought process at the door because the stately and (often) effective pace give us too much time to notice when touches like these are amiss. Where this hurts the film most is that it loses a lot of the "creepy" factor in the middle act that both the pace and narrative are begging for.
A major speed bump that keeps the movie from attaining stratospheric heights might seem unfair to level at Gudiño, since the picture is what it is at this point, but here goes. Maybe it's just me (I don't think so, though), but even genre-bending efforts like this gain a whole lot more mileage when you have the presence of a female lead. A young, hot, preferably nightie-and/or-undie-adorned babe is what I'm talkin' about here. Think Catherine Deneuve in Polanski's Repulsion, the final half hour of Ridley Scott's Alien and a goodly portion of one of my all-time low budget faves, Richard Stanley's Hardware.
Just do the math:
Hot babe + monster/ghost/robot/weird-shit = Unbeatable Combination.
Not that Gudiño's lead Aaron Poole doesn't acquit himself nicely - it's a finely textured performance, but changing the character to a woman and having a babe in the role would have worked wonders. Even when Polanski re-imagined Repulsion as The Tenant and cast himself in the perverse twist on Deneuve's loner in the apartment role, he made damn sure to find numerous opportunities to slide the ravishing Isabel Adjani into the picture (in addition to putting himself in drag).
More math: Polanski in Drag + Hot French babe = DynOmite!!!
Not meaning to be a Philistine here, but I do think something changes when you have a woman in peril - not in a stereotypical, misogynist sense - but to actually address a myriad of issues within the framework of cinematic storytelling that ultimately allow for more compelling viewing. Then again, I always recall the hilarious story of a genuinely famous Canadian producer who once cautioned a young filmmaker about to embark upon his first feature with a litany of Old Country advice. It culminated with: "Goddamn son of bitch, you want to show man too much! Is not to my taste. Is to be truthful, very distasteful to have too much man. But I tell you something for sure, everybody like to see the woman. The man, he like to see the woman. And the woman, she like to see the woman too."
Sage words from a wise member of the Eastern European diaspora.
Aside from my aforementioned niggles, this is a worthwhile effort that signals a directorial talent we'll want to hear more from. In fact, Gudiño's displayed enough filmmaking savvy and chutzpah here to make you grateful you got in on his ground floor, so to speak. On the level of fashioning an ideal low budget movie, the screenplay cleverly approaches a few supporting roles that not only work perfectly within the context of the narrative, but allowed the filmmaking team to affordably cast and get a super performance from Vanessa Redgrave (not to mention fine work from the inimitable Julian Richings and Steven Eric McIntyre among others).
My dissatisfaction with the look of the house and its interiors notwithstanding, I was delighted with cinematographer Samy Inayeh's work. His compositions are first-rate, his moves infused with grace and his lighting is both delectably and suitably moody. Frankly, I think there's a lot of latitude in his footage to go back into the colour timing suite and darken the picture substantially to deal with the less than stellar interior design. Inayeh has done his bit to make the house's interiors look like Miss Haversham's home in David Lean's Great Expectations or the mysterious house the old crone in Val Lewton's Curse of the Cat People lives in, but he's only able to go so far and I'm really convinced one could safely heighten contrast whilst maintaining detail in a John Alton noir style. (By the way, every filmmaker, D.O.P. and production designer needs to read Alton's great book "Painting with Light".)
In any event, get thee hence to a Cineplex Entertainment complex near you and see this sucker on a big screen. It has the potential to look great in all manner of ancillary delivery formats, but it's going to be way more fun seeing it theatrically.
Full info on the Sinister Cinema series from Raven Banner below:
Raven Banner Launches Exciting
Genre Film Series Across Canada
by Greg Klymkiw
Raven Banner, the exciting genre-friendly company that specializes in strategic project management of innovative independent motion pictures is launching an extremely exciting series for genre fans in Canada. Sinister Cinema is a brand new monthly showcase of what promises to be some very cool horror movies. In addition to the movies, there will be a grand sense of showmanship allowing for added value goodies (consider it DVD/Blu-Ray extras - LIVE at Big-Screen venues). Personal appearances, Live Q & A's and exclusive pre-recorded intros plus interviews are just some of the planned delights to enhance the movie-going experience. The movies will screen at 25 Cineplex Entertainment screens across Canada.
The venues are:
Odeon Victoria Cinemas – Victoria, BC
Galaxy Cinemas Nanaimo – Nanaimo, BC
Colossus Langley Cinemas – Langley, BC
Silvercity Riverport Cinemas – Richmond, BC
Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas – Vancouver, BC
(NOTE: Dope Smoking not allowed in cinemas, so toke-up before you enter the premises and/or discreetly utilize the handicapped crappers. Do not forget to disarm smoke detectors and sprinklers.)
Stevie Harper KKK Headquarters
Scotiabank Theatre Edmonton – Edmonton, AB
Scotiabank Theatre Chinook – Calgary, AB
(NOTE: Cross Burnings not allowed indoors. Moonshine not for sale in cinemas, but can be smuggled in.)
Armpit of Canada
Galaxy Cinemas Regina – Regina, SK
Galaxy Cinemas Saskatoon – Saskatoon, SK
(NOTE: You must leave your livestock tethered to the front of the cinemas. Feel free to smuggle in your own smoked hog ears for good eatin' during the show.)
Second Biggest Armpit of Canada
SilverCity Polo Park Cinemas – Winnipeg, MB
(NOTE: The rest of the province is mosquito-ridden swamp land populated by inbreds who do not watch movies or do much of anything besides fight and fornicate in the winter and fish with dynamite charges and big nets in the summer - beer included.)
Centre of the Known Universe (and surrounding environs)
Cineplex Odeon Devonshire Mall Cinemas – Windsor, ON
SilverCity London Cinemas – London, ON
Galaxy Cinemas Waterloo – Waterloo, ON
Cineplex Odeon Winston Churchill Cinemas – Oakville, ON
SilverCity Hamilton Cinemas – Hamilton, ON
Cineplex Cinemas Mississauga – Mississauga, ON
Cineplex Odeon Queensway Cinemas – Toronto, ON
Colossus Vaughan Cinemas – Vaughan, ON
SilverCity Fairview Mall Cinemas – Toronto, ON
Cineplex Odeon Yonge & Dundas Square Cinemas – Toronto, ON
Cineplex Odeon Eglinton Town Centre Cinemas – Scarborough, ON
Coliseum Ottawa Cinemas – Ottawa, ON
SilverCity Gloucester Cinemas – Ottawa, ON
SilverCity Sudbury Cinemas – Sudbury, ON
(NOTE: Torontonians proclaim that Toronto is the Centre of the Known Universe. Most of us know better - especially all the venues OUTSIDE the GTA)
La Belle Province
Cineplex Odeon Forum Cinemas – Montreal, QC
(NOTE: French people do not like horror movies as they are all Catholic. The few who do are politely asked to leave their separatist literature at home and refrain from screaming "Je me souviens!" every ten fucking minutes.)
And now, the movies:
May 9, 2013: Rue Morgue founder and publisher Rodrigo Gudiño's feature debut The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh
May 30, 2013: The Best Fucking Horror Movie of 2012, American Mary
June 19, 2013: Sicko Ryuhei (The Midnight Meat Train) Kitamura's No One Lives
BUY TICKETS HERE