Rodrigo Gudino‘s The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh, stars Aaron Poole and Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave, is the epitome of a slow burn movie. Taking place in largely one location, it’s a haunting (literally) tale of a mother and son being divided even in the afterlife.
I recently hopped on the phone with Gudino to talk about the film’s inception, how he found the house it takes place in (which is a character unto itself) and the coup of landing Vanessa Redgrave for the project.
“The film centers on an antiques collector who inherits a house from his estranged mother only to discover that she had been living in a shrine devoted to a mysterious cult of angels. As night falls, he comes to suspect that his mother’s oppressive spirit still lingers within her home and is using items in the house – especially the statues of angels – to contact him with an urgent message.”
How did you segue into filmmaking from Rue Morgue and how did you settle on this being the story you wanted to tell?
I started Rue Morgue about 15 years ago and even at the beginning I wanted to get into film, it was sort of my introduction to the industry. And then I started making shorts in 2006 to just get a feel for making films, obviously I was an editor and a publisher before that. Those shorts were my very first time before the camera.
My producer approached me with this project and asked if I could write something in a specific budget range and TeleFilm Canada, which is one of the funding bodies for this country, was interested in finding something for me. So I wrote it at a breakneck speed, in like 3 weeks.
As far as where it comes from, I took some ideas from short films I hadn’t made. I wanted to experiment. I actually pitched the movie as one guy in a house, and for the rest of the movie you don’t see anybody. It’s a very psychological film and I wanted to experiment with what the audience is expecting and perceiving. As well as telling a scary story.
The location is also a character in the film.
When I was writing the script I needed to write around the location because it’s very precise, there are camera moves written around the location. So I needed to find something first. I started looking around Toronto and I was kind of influenced by Stanley Kubrick who shot everything a few miles from his house, even Full Metal Jacket, and looking around my neighborhood there were plenty of interesting things. Sure enough this house came up and the family, a mother and her two kids who lived there, were collectors and they had an eccentric side. And I fell in love with the house obviously and added it to the story.
I messed around with the house a little bit and added walls, the geography you see in the film isn’t the exact geography of the house. We needed a big environment and the house fit that perfectly.
If you’re going to have a substantial amount of voiceover in your film you could do worse than Vanessa Redgrave. How did you manage to get her involved?
As you’re saying, the film has quite a bit of voiceover. I needed somebody who could really emote and carry the lines, it’s not just a matter of saying the lines I needed someone who could carry the emotion. The film is a haunted house/ghost film, but at its heart it’s a movie about a broken relationship between a mother and her son. I really needed a certain amount of pain and pathos. I really fell in love with her voice and I got the script to her and she liked it enough to be a part of the project, which is pretty amazing.
How did you work to establish the relationship between Aaron Poole’s character [Leon] and Rosalind, since they’re not in the same room [exactly]?
The emphasis is sort of not on communicating and not making contact, so I didn’t have any of the voiceover of the Rosalind Leigh character during Aaron’s shoot. He’s sort of in his own world and he’s trying to rationalize himself through this night of bizarre occurrences.
And how did you settle on the element of the cult Rosalind has in her past?
The main thing is, religion drove these two people apart. And this is common, I think. It’s certainly something I’ve experienced on a personal level. Religion in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, it’s just the way its wielded. And this religious group isn’t necessarily good or bad, it’s sort of right on that line and the viewer has to determine exactly what it is they were doing. The mystery of the cult is more interesting to me than spelling stuff out.