Horror Film Takes Cues From Roman Catholic Church

Horror director Rodrigo Gudino grew up Roman Catholic in Mexico, but now he calls Canada his home. He's no longer a practicing Catholic, but he's brought the aesthetics of his childhood into his movies, including his latest, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Melissa Block. A new horror film is taking its cues from the Roman Catholic Church. Director Rodrigo Gudino lives in Canada, but he grew up in Mexico. As he was imagining his movie "The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh," he kept returning to the religious images and themes of his Catholic childhood. From member station KPBS, Beth Accomando reports.

BETH ACCOMANDO, BYLINE: A lot of contemporary horror floods the screen with extreme gore, but Rodrigo Gudino takes a different approach. His new film is all about elegant restraint, and a slow ratcheting up of tension.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH"))

AARON POOLE: (As Leon) I'm at my mom's place now. Something happened that I can't really explain.

ACCOMANDO: Leon's mother just passed away and for the first time in decades, he returns to her house. It's cluttered with memorabilia that remind him of his mother's strict and terrifying religious teachings. Statues of angels and the Virgin Mary watch ominously over Leon, and he starts to feel a supernatural presence in the house.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH"))

MITCH MARKOWITZ: (As Communication Coach) When communicating with the dead, it is not necessary to resort to elaborate techniques or...

ACCOMANDO: In Rodrigo Gudino's film, it's not the devil that's scary.

RODRIGO GUDINO: I wanted to get away from that, present a religious horror film where the religious horror is religion itself.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH")

MARKOWITZ: (As Communication Coach) Believe, or suffer - this is the message we've been handed. Our God is a loving god, but he is also a god of wrath and anger.

ACCOMANDO: As Leon confronts his childhood fears, he never turns to religion or faith for guidance. He looks to reason and science. So the film becomes an atheist's take on Catholic horror.

GUDINO: The protagonist is someone who has rejected the religion of his mother, and has done so as a Western rationalist. And in fact, that's really the only way he could come to terms with some of those things, unless he was going to admit that maybe his mother was right.

ACCOMANDO: Aaron Soto(ph) programmed "Rosalind Leigh" earlier this year at the San Diego Latino Film Festival. He says the film comes at horror, and the supernatural, from a fresh perspective.

AARON SOTO: It's probably one of the very, very first films to tell a ghost story like you've never seen before. What I can say that - a very deep philosophical film about exploring faith and belief.

ACCOMANDO: Gudino is quick to point out that although his mother raised him Catholic, she never forced her beliefs on him. But growing up Catholic can introduce you to horror at an early age, says Gudino. His first memory of being horrified was by Gustave Dore's etchings for "Dante's Inferno."

GUDINO: I remember looking through that. Those are very, very early in my memories, you know, of ever being terrified. And they're, you know, obviously religious. They come from the Catholic faith.

ACCOMANDO: Add to that growing up Catholic in Mexico.

GUDINO: Their representation of Jesus as a suffering figure is quite extreme, in some cases. He's bleeding and bruised and cut open, and things - quite grotesque. You know, when you're in other parts of North America, he's a resurrected Christ. He's very clean and respectable. But here, they don't shy away from showing his suffering side.

ACCOMANDO: Growing up with an institution like the Catholic Church does make you want to challenge it, he says. It leaves a lot to be desired as a religious institution, yet he still feels its influence.

GUDINO: To this day, I sometimes walk into churches, and I feel the terror of that; the terror of being confronted with a god - you know, and like, this thing that might be there; like, in that space that's not human, you know. But I guess I have an active imagination, too, right? (Laughing)

ACCOMANDO: And so, too, does the character of Leon; who may not believe in God, but he definitely feels his mother's presence in the house. And even an atheist can be unnerved by things that go bump in the night.

For NPR News, I'm Beth Accomando.

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