Friday, April 12, 2013
Arts reporter Beth Accomando talks with filmmaker Rodrigo Gudino about tapping into Catholicism for horror.
Filmmaker Rodrigo Gudiño was born in San Diego, grew up in Tijuana, and now lives in Canada where he publishes a cult favorite horror magazine called Rue Morgue. His new film, “The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh,” reflects the influence of both borders.
Growing up Catholic can introduce you to horror at an early age. Just ask filmmaker Rodrigo Gudiño. His first memory of being horrified was by Gustav Dore’s etchings for “Dante’s Inferno.”
“I remember looking through that, those are very, very early in my memories of ever being terrified and they’re obviously religious, they come from the Catholic faith.
Add to that growing up Catholic in Mexico.
“Their representation of Jesus as a suffering figure is quite extreme in some cases, he’s bleeding, he’s bruised and cut open and it’s quite grotesque. When you are in other parts of North America, he’s quite clean, he’s a resurrected Christ, he’s clean and respectable. But here they don’t shy away showing his suffering side.”
Renowned international filmmakers Luis Buñuel and Alejandro Jodorowsky came to Mexico to make films and create a tradition of Mexican horror and fantasy colored by Catholic images and religious provocation.
“Jodorowsky really introduced me to the language of symbolism in cinema, I was always interested in that in literature and Bunuel as well, there was a surrealist aspect to their work that really appeals to me.”
Those are not the kind of influences he found when he moved to Canada.
“Canada’s a very material place in a way actually, it doesn’t have I would say the imagination that Mexico has. I appreciate the sort of cold Canadian sort of clinical approach to films… I’m simply not there. I draw from other places and Tijuana and Mexico are a big, big source of inspiration for me.”
Gudiño decided to make his own kind of religious horror with his latest film “The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh.”
In the film, the main character experiences strange things and reports to his girlfriend, “I’m at my mom’s house and there’s something that happened that I can’t really explain.”
The story involves Leon (Aaron Poole), a man who returns to his estranged mother’s house after she’s died. The house is filled with religious statues that remind Leon of his mother’s strict and terrifying religious teachings.
Gudiño wanted to make a supernatural horror film but one that avoided the devil.
“So this movie is really not about that at all. I wanted to get away from that, present a religious horror film where the religious horror is religion itself.”
Gudiño’s film is fascinating for the way it goes against expectations. While so much of contemporary horror is about extreme gore and in your face filmmaking, his film is all about elegant restraint and a slow ratcheting up of tension. It also surprises us with the type of religious images -- in this case angels – that it chooses to employ. And that the way Leon chooses to fight off his fears is not through religion and faith but rather through reason and science. You could call this an atheist’s take on Catholic horror.
“The protagonist is someone who has rejected the religion of his mother and has done so as a western rationalist. And in fact that is 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.”
Gudiño says his mother raised him Catholic but never forced her beliefs on him. Yet, he adds, whenever you grow up with an institution, you want to challenge it. Although he feels Catholicism as a religious institution leaves a lot to be desired, he still feels it’s influence.
“To this day I sometimes walk into churches and I feel that kind of terror of that, the terror of being confronted with a God you know and this thing that might there like in that space that’s not human… but I guess I have an active imagination too.”
Gudino brings together a perfect storm of elements. Born in the U.S., raised in Mexico, and making films in Canada, he seems influenced by all three countries but dominated by none. Perhaps that’s why his film feels like a fresh take on familiar genre elements.