The writer and director of The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh, Rodrigo Gudiño, may not be instantly recognizable to horror movie fans yet, but as he started and edited popular horror magazine Rue Morgue for years it's safe to say that he knows his way around scary movies. With a few shorts under his belt, this effort marks his feature directorial debut and while it might not be a film for all tastes, those who appreciate deliberately paced ghost stories ought to find much to enjoy here.
When the movie begins, a woman named Rosalind Leigh (voiced by Vanessa Redgrave) narrates the tale and fills us in on the backstory. She's deceased, and her son, Leon (Aaron Poole), has arrived at her strange home to look over the estate. As he's an antiques dealer he's got a financial interest in digging through what his mother has left behind but he's quickly going to find out that there's a lot more her than he'd bargained for. See, his mother seems to have been involved with a strange angel worshipping cult of some sort and while her apparent suicide should, theoretically at least, have spelled the end for her, as Leon explores the remnants of her past Rosalind attempts to make contact with him.
Though Redgrave is top billed, she's used here pretty much entirely (though not quite completely) as a voice over artist. The narration in the film, which could have easily become tacky and/or an easy way of explaining things tricky to divulge through visual storytelling, surprisingly works to the movie's advantage. Redgrave gives her character some interesting personality and her scripted dialogue does an impressive job not of completely explaining away all that we see on screen but instead complimenting it. As Leon explores the house and experiences that which would seem to be otherworldly, his mother's words become more important. It's an effective technique that Gudiño uses very well here.
Though the cast is pretty much limited to Poole (a couple of very minor though not unimportant players appear, though fleetingly), he does a great job here. His initial confidence understandably turns to skepticism and then to fear as he experiences what he experiences in the house. As he witnesses and feels things that technology cannot explain we see his character believably into someone no longer so sure of himself. Poole brings a very human element to the role that serves the movie well. Redgrave's voice over work is also excellent, never ham-fisted or forced but appropriately morose, the right balance of distant in its otherworldliness and concerned as a mother would be for her child, estranged or otherwise.
This is a detailed film, the kind that will reward repeat viewings. Though the exterior of the house looks artificially gothic, the interiors are crammed with all manner of items, often times both symbolic and unusual. There are angels all over the place, in keeping with Rosalind's theological beliefs and faith, but something else is here as well. As the story plays out, there are interesting visual clues to this that help to build suspense and a sense of dread. The fact that the movie is expertly shot by cinematographer Samy Inayeh and edited with an appreciable precision and rhythm by Duncan Christie ensures that the picture generally looks good and has to it a certain melancholy flow. A solid sound design also helps here, only adding to an already impressive atmosphere.
The film is not perfect. The reveal towards the end feels like a little bit too much in terms of what we see and how we see it, and the final shot is a little on the predictable side, even if it is at least appropriate in terms of the narrative. Overall though, this is a well-made, very deliberately paced film that does the right thing in taking its time to let its mystery unfold in a refreshingly mature and appropriately artistic manner.
The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh is presented in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen. There's a bit of shimmer in some scenes during camera movement and the darker moments do occasionally show some compression artifacts but overall, picture quality is pretty good here. The movie uses a very dark, cool color scheme and that's replicated well here. As this was shot digitally there are no problems with any dirt or damage, the image is pretty much pristine in that regard. Shadow detail would appear to be as good as the filmmakers wanted it to be, meaning that sometimes the things that lie in the darkness remain shrouded in shadows and come across as intentionally ill defined. In the context of the story being told, it's appropriate and effective.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix on the disc is a good one, making great use of the rear and front channels alike to help build solid atmosphere and create an increasingly threatening mood. The score is spread out nicely and while there isn't a ton of dialogue in this particular movie, when it's used it sounds fine as does Redgrave's narration. Optional English closed captioning is also provided.
Extras kick off with an audio commentary courtesy of the film's director Rodrigo Gudiño, moderated by Stewart Andrews. This is pretty much a scene specific talk right from the start as Andrews probes Gudiño about what's happening in the movie which allows him to segue into different stories about what happened on set, where some ideas came from, and what he had to go through to get the project finished. It's a solid talk, but participants come off as amiable and are easy to listen to. It's paced well and there isn't a whole lot of dead air and Andrews does a fine job of keeping Gudiño on topic and talking.
Additionally, the disc also includes a twenty-eight minute long making of featurette entitled Angels, Antiques And Apparitions. This piece includes interviews with Gudiño, Aaron Poole, Samy Inayeh, cameraman and steadicam operator Mike Heathcoat, production designer Jason McQuarry, production executive Lilia Deschamps, the owner of the house Adalaura Testani, makeup and effects artist Laura MacCon, makeup and effects designer David Scott, VFX supervisor Anthony Scott Burns, producer Marco Pecota. There's a lot of emphasis on the visual side of the movie here, the house and what was inside it specifically, but we also learn about how the movie was shot, the look that the crew came up with for the picture and what it was like on set. There's also a second featurette here, Mercan Dede, in which the film's score composer talks for twelve minutes about what he brought to the project and what it was like collaborating with the director.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are a still gallery of poster art and promotional photos and a short film entitled The Facts In The Case Of Mister Hollow. This is a pretty decent little six minute short film that has to do with a 1930's era photograph and the eerie story that it tells. Menus and chapter selection are also included and it's worth noting that if you don't like the cover art (it does kind of rip-off ‘The Weeping Angels' from Doctor Who!) there's a much cooler and entirely more appropriate option available on the flip side of the insert.
The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh isn't likely to appeal to those who want their horror movies filled with fast cuts, snappy dialogue and crazy gore, but if you're able to appreciate the ‘slow burn' that director Gudiño has crafted here this one turns out to be a surprisingly effective movie. It's very nicely shot and well put together, the acting is solid and the story interesting and genuinely eerie. Image's DVD looks and sounds pretty good and it's got a decent array of extra features as well. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.