Film Club: The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Horror-Writers Film Club.  We thought it would be a good idea to have members of the staff watch the same movie, then have a conversation about it.  For this first Film Club, Lisa, Shawn, Chassity & I sat down to watch The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh (currently on Netflix).  We hope you have as much fun reading it as we did watching it and talking about it.  If you have any suggestions for future entries, please let us know.

Description from Netflix:
After the mysterious death of reclusive Rosalind Leigh, her estranged son, Leon, arrives at her house to take stock of his inheritance.  But there’s more to this house than dark corners and dusty antiques.

What I liked:

Dusty – I loved the look of it.  A lot of wide shots.  The camera seemed to be floating most of the time.  It gave a feeling that there was always someone else in the house, watching Leon.  I found it to be very unsettling at times.  It kind of reminded me of the steadycam work in Halloween, which took us inside the eyes of the killer (or, at the very least, in the vicinity of the killer).  The main difference in that line of thinking is that there was no obvious killer here.  At times it played a bit like a found-footage movie, only without all the shaking and leaps of logic that usually accompany those films.  Put a little more succinctly, the camera felt like the POV shot of an always present yet unseen entity.

I loved the way the camera seemed to linger.  With as slow as this moved, and as wide as the shots were, I found myself often looking over Leon’s shoulder and into the dark hallway (or slightly open doorway) behind him.  My imagination ran wild with those scenes.  Even though it was an extremely slow movie, I found that I was tense more often than not.  (The remake of The Woman in Black had this same thing going for it.)

Lisa – I loved how quiet it was. I agree with Dusty about the camera angles & the overall look of the film. The longer you watch, the more you feel a part of what’s happening to Leon. The eyes really creeped me out. Those twins were unsettling as well. I really liked the peephole scene. The house was so big with so many doors, but it felt really closed in with all of those creepy statues & knickknacks everywhere.

Overall, I liked the feeling of this movie and I enjoyed the ending. It made sense in a nonsensical way.

Dusty – Yes!  All the religious items cluttered throughout the house were perfect.  It was spooky, and perfectly realized.  At times it felt like I was watching a horror movie as visualized by Wes Anderson.

Shawn – As a person who had both of his parents pass on, the emptiness and general loneliness of the house really resonated with me. Something that was once familiar and comforting had become dark and haunted by memory.

Chassity – I loved how utterly and purely creepy this film was. The slow build of this film had a lot of negative, but what it did right was add to the suspense, and make the film eerie.  It’s not scary in the sense of obvious tangible danger, but in a looming ominous sense of doom.  The terror in this film is in the unseen.  Without that slow build, that terror wouldn’t have the same effect.

The use of the voices of people we don’t see (or rarely see) is incredible. It might be the creepiest thing about this film. Every single character except for Leon has a disturbing quality about their voices that is simply chilling. And each time Leon talks to someone on the phone or we hear his mother’s voice, his paranoia and fear just increase.

Favorite Scene:

Lisa – When Leon is on the phone, crouching on the floor, closing his eyes, trying to avoid the creature. Just when it looks like it’s going to get him, he opens his eyes and it’s gone.

Chassity – When Leon is on the phone with his friend trying to calm down after getting worked up by all the creepy things he’s witnessed.  I like the vulnerability he shows here. Something about seeing a male horror lead completely terrified and worked up was refreshing to me.

Shawn – I can’t give details for obvious spoiler reasons, but the ending really resonated with me.  Chassity mentioned this as well, but I enjoyed any time Rosalind was doing the narration.  Her voice had a haunting, fragile, lonely tone to it. It was heartbreaking.

Dusty – Totally with Shawn on this.  Vanessa Redgrave was perfect as the voice of Rosalind Leigh.  It had a real sense of longing and regret behind it.  I wasn’t a fan of those scenes at the beginning, but the more they popped up, the more I loved them.  Big fan of the camerawork for those scenes as well.  All the places she used to be in the house.  And, I guess, all the places she still was.

What I didn’t like:

Dusty – As I mentioned, it’s very slow.  For the most part, I didn’t mind it.  But there were times when it seemed to be dragging quite a bit.  It never totally lost me because of this, but it may have if I were in a different mood.

Chassity – I agree with that.  It was much too slow for my taste. I’ve never been a fan of films that feature a sole character or films that have the audience constantly waiting for something to happen that just doesn’t. At first, this seemed like a film that was all about scares based on building tension that would never be delivered on.

As someone raised in the Bible belt with a fairly strict Christian upbringing (being an atheist was never an option), I am immediately suspicious and turned off by films that use religion as an element for scares. So that was one negative for me. I don’t like to see religious fanaticism in movies, because it’s stereotyping, and this goes double for horror movies where religion is used as a tool. I will say that in the film it was handled quite tastefully, but, unlike the rest of you all, I tend to distance myself from films that use religious fanatics as villains.

Dusty – I totally understand that.  Chassity brings up a good point with the religious themes and her background.  Where does everyone else fall on that?

I was raised in the Methodist church.  My dad was a pastor at a couple different Free Methodist churches, and currently runs a house church.  So I can definitely say that I grew up in a religious household.  I think this movie would hit a little harder if I was raised in the Catholic church, but a lot of the imagery still resonated with me.

Personally, I find myself drawn to horror movies exploring religious themes, or movies with heavy religious imagery.  We could have an entire conversation based solely on this topic.

Shawn – I grew up and still identify as a Roman Catholic. As a child the teachings of the church were very important to me and at one time I had plans of becoming a priest (I was 10).   It is because of this that any movie with even vaguely religious overtones has the ability to hold my interest no matter the run-time.

I enjoyed all of the Religious facets of this movie. I enjoyed the portrayal of the Angels and the inner struggle between whether or not to believe. Each Christian will have a crisis of faith at one point and I loved how it was conveyed here.  For the main character, that crisis lasted an entire lifetime but I enjoyed the journey and the inner struggles that came with it.

Lisa – Having a religious upbringing definitely influenced how I viewed this movie. Much like Leon, I was threatened with “someone” turning their back on me if I didn’t blindly believe everything. Religion has always been more of a boogey man to me because it was used to scare and control me. I have no negative feelings towards it, but it certainly makes me more invested in this type of movie.

Dusty – I find it really interesting that all of us come from religious backgrounds, and yet we all have slightly different readings of that in this film.

Going back to things I didn’t like: the CGI wolf creature.  The more I saw of it, the worse it looked.  When it was in the bushes and all I saw were the glowing eyes and the outline of the head, it was kind of creepy.  But when its whole body was visible, it looked laughably bad.  That almost ruined the third act for me.

Shawn – I completely agree with that.  The CGI was atrocious and immersion breaking.

Lisa – I don’t know that anything really bothered me. The CGI wasn’t great, but not bad enough to call it out. At that point in the movie, I was all in.

Additional thoughts:

Dusty – I’ve heard this compared to Ti West’s work, mainly because of the pacing and some of the deliberateness of the way the scenes are set-up (West is another one who feels like he has more than a little Wes Anderson influence in his movies).  While I can certainly see the comparison, I don’t really agree with it.  I thought this was a much better film than anything West has done so far.  While it was slow, it always felt like it was driving forward.  There was a purpose to each of his shots, and there was a tension that I haven’t felt with West.  West feels more like a guy who wants to recreate the worst parts of 70s cinema.  He wants scenes that are slow, but without any real resolution.  His movies look good, but they feel like they’re 75% filler.  The tension just isn’t there.  His movies don’t feel like they’re building.  My point is that I think Gudino is a better filmmaker than West at this point in their careers.

Final Thoughts:

Dusty – I really liked this.  It had a great look and feel to it, and it kept me on my toes, even when it didn’t seem like anything was going on.  On top of the comparisons to Halloween and The Woman in Black I made earlier, it’s hard to watch this and not think of The Orphanage, The Awakening or Inside Shadows.  I would absolutely recommend this, with the caveat that you have to be in the right mood to fully appreciate it.

Lisa – I see/hear ghosts (No, I’m not crazy). That – combined with my religious background I talked about earlier – made this movie really awesome for me. I would absolutely recommend it. I enjoyed the pace and tone.

Chassity – I don’t think I would recommend this movie to others. I don’t think it would be worth it. It’s one of those films that can easily be missed. It’s not one I’d feel the need to watch more than once.

Shawn – It was a slow movie, to be sure but it was an enjoyable one. If you’re like me and enjoy religious horror movies then I’d recommend it, otherwise it may not be worth your time.  Just go in knowing that this is absolutely a mature horror movie that is geared towards adults without being graphic or full of nudity.