Studio: Image Entertainment
Director: Rodrigo Gudino
Writer: Rodrigo Gudino
Producer: Marco Pecota
Stars: Aaron Poole, Vanessa Redgrave, Julian Richings, Stephen Eric McIntyre, Charlotte Sullivan, Mitch Markowitz
Following his mother’s death, a lonely man has his beliefs challenged by a mysterious creature and a cult with strange ties to his family history.
Rosalind Leigh is dead. In life, she was a devoutly religious person, having belonged to a peculiar sect devoted to Holy Angels known as God’s Messengers. Her faith was at least partly responsible for the estrangement of her son, Leon. With her passing, Leon is forced to confront the ghosts of that past when he returns to Rosalind Leigh’s home for the first time since he broke away from her grip. But a shadowy creature lurking in the woods outside may be a threat greater than Leon’s memories.
Aside from one quick flashback and a pair of video clips, Aaron Poole is the only actor who appears onscreen in “The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh.” What little dialogue exists in the film comes via Rosalind Leigh’s narration and from conversations that Leon has over the phone or through a cracked door. The intent is for the film to be a study on the theme of loneliness. Minimizing the cast list to just one onscreen character is one way that director Rodrigo Gudino establishes the isolated atmosphere of the movie.
Making Leon the film’s tent-pole is problematic, however. With little for him to do except wander his mother’s cluttered home while staring at religious artifacts, his characterization is reduced to how he interacts with others. And those interactions do not depict Leon in a sympathetic light.
The first time that Leon is heard in conversation is when he berates his antiques broker Bill over the phone. Leon is upset that all of his items were purchased by his mother and Bill never clued him in to that fact. When Leon’s emotional state starts crumbling, he looks for rescue by calling therapist Anne, who appears to have had some sort of past relationship with the troubled man. She helps Leon cope, but there is clear exasperation in her voice. Speaking with Leon is an inconvenience for her, and she makes it known that if she never received another phone call from Leon, that would probably be just fine with her.
Leon is seen having just one human interaction in the movie, with a neighbor expressing his condolences over Rosalind’s death. Even though his dinner was interrupted, Leon still does not have the courtesy to invite the man off the doorstep, much less open the door wider than necessary to be dismissive. From every indication given, Leon is not a likeable person.
That character flaw ties directly into another of the film’s issues. Leon’s devout mother is supposed to be an oppressive force whose resonating impact continues to vex her son’s emotions to this day. But what is revealed about their past relationship does not necessarily paint Rosalind in an overwhelmingly negative light. The primary illustration of her son’s forcible religious indoctrination comes from a game called “Candles.” Rosalind lit three candles in front of an angel statue. As each flame was extinguished, Leon was asked if he believed in God. Rosalind told him that if he still answered no after the final flame flickered out, the angel would turn its back on him. Some mental trauma might be likely from such an experience, but this action hardly makes Rosalind Leigh the reincarnation of Carrie White’s mother. Leon himself even categorizes “Candles” as a “test” rather than a “punishment.” The promise of Leon’s mother being an object of enmity is something that never manifests during the story.
Devoid of characters and of conversation, the movie is mostly a slow moving tour through Rosalind Leigh’s home, which resembles a cross between a church rummage sale and the Curious Goods antique store from “Friday the 13th: The Series.” Haunting music and creeping camera movements can create moody vibes in a haunted house, yet there is nothing in Rosalind’s collection that is truly horrific. The house is brimming with dimly lit and shadowed religious iconography, and none of it sells a sense of impending terror. Chilling music stings accompany the sight of Virgin Mary, Jesus, and angel statues, but how such benign visages are meant to be frightening is unknown.
This goes for the God’s Messengers “cult” that Rosalind belonged to, as well. The organization’s mantra is “faith is fragile,” a message that hardly inspires fear or foreboding. When Leon reviews a newspaper clipping about the cult’s involvement in a suicide and then discovers a VHS tape of a revival, it seems there may finally be a frightful revelation at hand. But the tape shows nothing more than a preacher leading his congregation in prayer before an angel statue. The statue then creepily opens its eyes, and that is it. Nothing about the cult’s activities has a sinister intent and no sense of dread ever comes from its association to the story.
As the imagery and symbolism fall flat in the psychological horror department, “Rosalind Leigh” adds a physical creature with average animation and an even weaker connection to the remainder of the story. Without compelling personalities or effective scares to support the snail’s pace, the film devolves into an exercise in patience. The constantly moving camera and the echoing melody try their best to inject life into a movie that is otherwise standing still. But “The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh” is a lot of gothic style applied to lukewarm material that does not really fit inside the framework.
Review Score: 45