In an interiview, writer/director of The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh Rodrigo Gudino stated he wanted the film to be more like a literary experience than a cinematic one, and I believe he succeeds in this endeavor.
This is the first full-length feature for the founding editor and president of Rue Morgue magazine – he created four well-received shorts before TLW&ToRL – and while I haven’t seen the shorts yet, if they are anywhere near as thoughtful and intelligent as this film, I’m sure they will be a treat.
A very basic plot summary (and it’s staying basic so as not to give anything away): Leon (Aaron Poole), an antiques collector, inherits a house from his estranged mother only to discover that she had been living in a shrine devoted to a mysterious cult. At first he’s skeptical (aren’t they all?), but as time goes on he begins to suspect he may not be alone in the house.
Let’s start at the very beginning – the first line of the film. Taking a page (GET IT???) from Shirley Jackson and The Haunting, the opening line is just killer (that one wasn’t a pun. It’s a really good line, really good opening scene). In fact, the opening reminded me very much of films like The Uninvited and The Haunting, but I thought it suited his intentions for the film. And it’s spoken with the lovely, fragile, emotion-filled voice of Vanessa Redgrave, rarely seen but felt throughout. Gudino keeps the beginning subtle, using long tracking shots and Redgrave’s voice to establish both the character of the house and the film as a whole.
Speaking of The Haunting, in TLW&ToRL, much like the 1963 classic, the house here is also a character, and it is perfect – lovely architecture, loads of creepy stuff, odd hallways and dark corners. Everything one could want from a haunted house. Gudiono gives the house its own gaze, like it’s the eyes of the film itself, and that is an excellent choice. And we, the viewers, look through the perspective of the house, leaving us a little off-center and disjointed – how can we be a house and not with the main character? Leon leaves and returns, but we are always in the house. But it totally works. Points to the production design team, because the whole thing is lovely. And creepy. Lovely/creepy.
Gudino doesn’t telegraph much either; in fact, most information must be overheard or observed. Not much is freely given to the viewer, but that kept me engaged – you gotta work for it in this one. Gudino makes very intelligent choices about what not to show – he lets our imaginations fill in what goes on, who is behind the voices, etc.
There are some awesome standout scenes (one with a journal comes to mind), and on the whole the film really works. It has a very 60s/70s feel to it but I’m betting that was purposeful, because many of the films from that era were allowed to breathe a little more, take more time to create an atmosphere before jumping into the crazy shit. And I must admit, I did not see the twist coming at all. So of course I loved that.
Before I wrap up, I want to talk about the poster for this film. Much like the super excellent Absentia, TLW&ToRL‘s poster does not help the movie at all. There’s more than one version, but instead of sticking with this nice subtle version:
We got this:
Which is NOTHING like the film!!! Sheesh movie poster people, can you TRY to make something that remotely conveys the atmosphere and flavor of the movie you’re advertising? Just a thought. You’re not doing these films any favors here. People are missing out on great movies because of these posters! Knock it off!
Okay, now that that’s done, I totally recommend TLW&ToRL, but you have to ignore the poster and allow the film to unspool in its own way. If you can do that, you will not be disappointed.