The Last Thing Mary Saw (Review): A Sinner’s Interrogation
Edoardo Vitaletti’s debut horror The Last Thing Mary Saw is a 19th century folk tale about a forbidden relationship that is intriguing in parts.
In 1843, in the small town of Southold, New York, Mary (Stefanie Scott) has been brought to a makeshift tribunal. She is blindfolded and has blood pouring from her covered eyes; what has caused this is unknown at first. After reciting the Lord’s Prayer at gunpoint, Mary is interrogated about the events that led to the death of her family’s elderly matriarch (Judith Roberts). As she begins to tell the story of what happened, we jump back in time and see Mary in a relationship with her family’s maid, Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman). But the family knows of their transgressions and try to stop their heathen ways through ‘corrections’, bone-crunching punishments testing their will and religious devotion. As Mary and Eleanor try to meet in secret, the family becomes more and more convinced of their righteousness in the eyes of God. And when a scarred stranger (Rory Culkin) visits, bloodshed is imminent.
Premiering on Shudder, the streaming home for horror, on January 20th, The Last Thing Mary Saw marks the feature film debut of writer-director Edoardo Vitaletti. On the surface, it looks like a typical film for the platform. Vitaletti has assembled a cast known for horror (in particular, Scott and Fuhrman are best known for starring in Insidious Chapter 3 and Orphan). Meanwhile, the rural 19th-century setting brings to mind folk horrors like Robert Eggers’ The Witch and last year’s Netflix Original Fear Street: 1666. That film is actually quite similar to The Last Thing Mary Saw – both films are about two young women in a relationship, the revelation of their romance and the response from a highly religious community. And whilst it is set centuries after those two films, The Last Thing Mary Saw feels similar through its Puritan costume design and focus on the theme of fanatical devotion to God.
Compared to Fear Street: 1666, the romance here feels more fleshed out, with Mary and Eleanor mostly shot close together to further their close romance. In terms of performances, Scott and Fuhrman are fine, but Judith Roberts stands out as ‘The Matriarch’. She is a disturbing figure throughout, wrinkly and almost spectral. In a film where there is constant talk of devils and demons, she is positioned as the true monster – especially when the film takes a sudden left turn half an hour in. Furthermore, Rory Culkin may only have a short role as the stranger, but he injects some menace into proceedings.
There are some extended moving shots from cinematographer David Kruta, but the film is mostly static. Close-ups of worried, distrusting looks are emphasised to reinforce the tension between Mary’s family and the couple. In a film where characters watch through cracks and slightly ajar doors, these shots of multiple characters allow us to peak at the ever-watching eyes. Equally important is the darkened, ominous lighting and the creaking in the sound design that could be either wood or bone. Based on the shots we get of Mary and Eleanor’s tortured, bloodied knees after one ‘correction’, it could be the latter.
Whilst these seem like the parts to a great horror film, there are some glaring problems with The Last Thing Mary Saw. The film starts by slowly building the tension of the story. That is all well and good, but it does lead to one thought: where does the horror come from? Is it the sinister groups gathering in the cover of darkness outside and inside? Is it the scenes with long periods of tension? The few moments of gore? I think the film isn’t sure and isn’t frightening as a result. It doesn’t help that the ending will be prickly and odd to some. For me, the film didn’t quite stick the landing with its ending.
The Last Thing Mary Saw is watchable and even intriguing when it aims for twisted horror. Plus, there are some nice stylistic choices. Most of the second act plays out in silence due to a family tradition, highlighting how much of a stranglehold they have on Mary. However, it is also a little confused as to what kind of horror it wants to showcase and – crucially – fails to be scary enough. Still, at a brisk 88 minutes long, The Last Thing Mary Saw is an interesting enough horror film if you want to check it out.
The Last Thing Mary Saw premieres exclusively on Shudder on Thursday, January 20, 2022.
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