Do you have any weird itches that you like to scratch every once in a while? I do. I’m what you might call the opposite of a hoarder; I obsessively get rid of things. However! One of my weird itches is perusing overstuffed spaces. Not mine. Other people’s. I was flipping channels one day and found myself transfixed by A&E’s Storage Wars, and I hate garbage tv! I’m fascinated by strangers’ stuff. And I keep finding these horror flicks that feature these overstuffed spaces.
I’m very excited to share this one with y’all: The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh [2012, directed and written by Rodrigo Gudiño]. You can rent it now on Amazon, or do yourself a favor and just buy the dvd. I want to issue a warning before you watch it: you must be fully engaged with this movie at every moment or you just won’t get it. This isn’t Paranormal Activity. I’d say that in this case, Paranormal Activity would be the Miller Lite to this film’s thoughtful and complex local microbrew.
If I had to choose one word to describe this film, it would be upsetting. The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is deeply, deeply upsetting.
I often wish that I lived in an alternate plane where the careers of horror movies could be mine. Imagine, making a killing hunting ghosts, or de-bunking hauntings and psychics, or, in tonight’s case, hocking paranormal, occult, and religious artifacts. Yeessss, basically being the Indiana Jones or Lara Croft of the paranormal. To build my throne on a pile of trinkets that I stole from other people and cultures without any care to consequence. Oh no, did I sell you a cursed doll? Well dang, tough biscuits for you.
After a church group convinces his father to die by suicide, Leon (our protagonist) spends his adult life distancing himself from his mother, their house, and their church (cough, cult, cough). Leon has made his career by selling artifacts through his company, Tribal Traders. Leon’s mother, Rosalind, has recently died. Leon arrives in his childhood home to find that every piece he has ever sold was bought by his mother. The pieces stare at him from all over the house. A human skull on the desk. Statues from all over the globe on every surface. A larger-than-human Burning Man type figure in the corner. He’s made a comfortable life this way. He drives a nice car. He cooks fancy dinners for himself, and cleans around the edge of the plate for perfect presentation.
After you realize how religious and involved in her cult Rosalind was, this is an odd thing for her to do. It means that despite her overbearing “Believe!” rhetoric, she bought these items from other religions and practices to fill her home. She supported Leon financially this way, but also really stuck it to him. Leon abandoned her in his adult years. She knows he’ll have to clean out her house. So she proves to him that she was always with him. Her voiceovers narrate pauses in the story. They sometimes repeat parts of themselves, like her spirit can’t find the words to tell him how she feels.
Angel cults + adopted accents = side-eyed emoji
This movie is steeped in parts of Christianity, but mostly the guilty pieces. The Catholic pieces. Not the ceremony, just the guilt. I’m not sure exactly what religion these people are worshipping, but it has nothing to do with doing good by your neighbor and spreading peace and joy. It seems to be focused on how to punish each other, and yourself.
One of the weirdest things about this cult, and one of the stranger elements of the movie, is the slight accent all of the members develop. Rosalind, the founders, and the members all talk in that slight British way of old 1940’s movies. It’s just a bit off.
There’s a violence to these members. They scream at angel statues. Rosalind punishes her son with the Game of Candles, threatening eternal damnation and the forces of darkness if he doesn’t play along. We don’t know exactly how Leon’s father died, but the movie often pans to an image or painting of a bridge, and an article titled, “Angel Cult Exonerated in Member’s Suicide.” Biblically speaking, angels appear as messengers of God, but equally important, they cannot be understood by human beings. In the Bible, some who gaze on angels are blinded or driven insane. Angels can be viewed as warriors, as violent, or a little too rough for fragile humans.
Despite Rosalind’s religion, she has covered her house in superstitious, creepy AF needlepoints:
- “If you drop a knife on the floor, a man will come to visit. / If a spoon, a woman will come. / If a fork, it will be neither man nor woman”
- “If the tap drips, it’s a sign of a storm”
- “Faith is fragile”
Can we talk about this horrifying game Rosalind plays? The Game of Candles is actually a thing! It came from the NoSleep forum on Reddit, but seems to have been given an older life in this film. Just worth noting.
How to live like a ghost
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is fond of panning through the house’s space in the same movements, while Leon moves and acts independently. It’s almost like we’re cycling through a memory that Leon has broken out of, but still moves around in. Leon seems comfortable in this awful place. He doesn’t turn on a bunch of lights or play music. It seems familiar to him to not try and bring some life to the place. The strange visitor who comes to the door mentions the woods in the backyard. We see the difference between Leon’s memory of a much whiter and brighter house, and see that Rosalind brought the wilderness and darkness into her house after Leon moved out. Indoor plants are a bad, bad idea.
This is not a ghost movie-movie. We are not going to see someone standing in a mirror behind Leon, or see a door handle twitch. We do hear Rosalind whisper to Leon. An example of one of the minor spooks: Leon walks back through the basement after the light goes out. We see the angel statue he found in a box suddenly on the floor in a bit of light, and hear Rosalind whisper, “Believe.” Leon turns the power back on, and walks past the now empty floor. Most of the horror is subtle: a heavy door that upsets Leon is locked, a close-up of the scratches on the lock left by a frantic key.
This house is loud! As Leon’s sanity swells and fades, the house creaks with his breathing and is loud under his slow steps. When he is more sane, the house is just an overstuffed house.
Our monster makes itself known early on in the film. We know only that it is a beast, and it slowly reveals to be something of a human, a wolf, and a big cat. I feel comfortable calling this thing a werewolf. This creature embodies the darkness that Rosalind threatens Leon with. As Leon moves through his mother’s house, we hear a low growl like a radiator. As we repeat Leon’s memories in more detail, the creature begins to appear in the periphery. At the climax of the film, we see it in its full form.
Much like the immediately not-scary Mama from Mama, the monster is scariest when we can’t see the full thing. The moments following the creature stepping with elongated limbs out of the treeline are some of the most upsetting and stressful. It tears at the house, pounding and clawing on the doors. The scariest sequence of the entire shebang happens after Leon has retreated into the house and is on the phone with Anna. She runs through a calming technique, telling him to imagine a warm pool of water inside of himself, pushing everything else out. We see the shadow of the beast approach him, booming steps across the foyer. Leon shakes and sobs. This whole thing feels entirely futile – he’s just cowering on the floor with his eyes closed while Anna has no idea that a mutha-effing werewolf is inches from his face. She just drones on and on about warm water. Open your eyes, Leon! For Christ’s sake, get out of there!
How to get rid of bad houseguests
One of the most upsetting and odd elements of the film is the offbeat way that visitors and callers interact with Leon. We actually don’t at any point see another actor with Leon in the same frame. One of Rosalind’s voiceovers says, “There are always strangers at the door, and they always want something.” The neighbor who knocks on the door isn’t seen by the viewer, we just see Leon. But we know this is a cult member by that weird accent. He offers Leon some truly gross advice:
“There’s an animal that’s come out of the woods. It’s probably sick so it might be dangerous. […] The woods belong to God, but every so often, something bad comes out of them.”
Ew, ew, ew!! Whaaaatttt??
Leon makes a few phone calls, as well:
- Bill, of Tribal Traders: Seems to be Leon’s partner. Nothing really noteworthy, these calls are basically exposition. The two of them should come up with a better company name.
- Anna: Leon’s ex-girlfriend? Childhood friend? Therapist? Unclear. She is friendlier than a therapist, but is in some capacity a therapist. Anna’s tone is bored and tired, which makes the moments of Leon’s mental breakdowns so much more tense. She can’t be bothered with his werewolf and ghost mother problems.
- Winchester Security: Leon seems too annoyed by the werewolf in this scene to notice that the security system is run by the cult, and that they seem to have remote access to his laptop. He isn’t concerned at all. Their tag is “Always awake, always watching.”
Werewolves, Lies, and Audiotape
Blame my age if you like, but I geek out over early 90’s stuff, like the “Communicate with the Dead” book and tape that Leon finds. Upon re-watching, I realized that this book and the tape recorder are Leon’s, not Rosalind’s. He probably got the book when he was trying to talk to his deceased father. We don’t need to see the full spiral of his loss of faith in flashbacks. We see just enough of a few traumatic events to understand the weight of his choices.
Back to the tape. Leon pops the tape into the player and settles in. The guy who narrates the tape has a deep, flat, evenly paced voice that is perfect for the bizarre things coming out of the speaker. They sound like the meditation tapes of the 90’s, but are so much weirder:
- “Spirits communicate through the most refined apparatus know to us – our senses. It’s merely a matter of tuning yourself to the right frequency.”
- “Empty yourself of all of your thoughts. All of your feelings. All of your emotions. Empty yourself now.”
- “There is someone here. You know who it is.”
I find Rosalind’s ending monolog distressing. She talks about the moment that she let the darkness in, saying, “My thoughts were confused. I kept thinking it was too big to be a cat.” The way she dies by suicide is horrible, tying herself up on a doorframe like Christ on the cross. She doesn’t even nail in her free hand and feet. She just ties herself up and allows herself to slowly die. As the medic (played by the writer/director!) wheels out her body, we see she wrote on the pad of paper beneath the painting of the bridge, “Do you miss me as much as I miss you?”
Uggh, God. I hate it. The movie ends on such a profoundly sad note that I want to re-arrange those final moments. I’d much rather end with Leon walking out. It doesn’t matter if he believes or not, if Rosalind is actually haunting the property of not. Leon’s life moves on, and he will return to selling fertility statues from Ethiopia and pre-charged voodoo dolls.
I really hope you give this little unknown a shot, if you haven’t yet seen it. This is a patient and thoughtful horror, but very rewarding.
Until next time!