The Last Thing Mary Saw - New Release Review
Director: Edoardo Vitaletti
Starring: Stefanie Scott, Isabelle Fuhrman, Daniel Pierce, Judith Roberts, Michael Laurence
Written by: Edoardo Vitaletti
Produced by: Harrison Allen, Isen Robbins, Aimee Schoof, Madeleine Schumacher
Cinematography by: David Kruta
Original Score by: Keegan DeWitt
Winter, 1843. A young woman is under investigation following the mysterious death of her family's matriarch. Her recollection of the events sheds new light on the ageless forces behind the tragedy.
Set in the puritanical 1800s, 'The Last Thing Mary Saw' is essentially a story of forbidden love between Mary, the young daughter of the prudish household and Eleanor, the maid with whom she is caught frolicking with. Mary is brought to trial by the family in the aftermath of the death of the Matriarch who possesses somewhat of an unhealthy control over the house and its inhabitants. At the beginning of the questioning we become aware that Mary, now wearing a blindfold with traces of blood dripping down her cheeks, is being accused of the Matriarch’s murder and through flashbacks we are slowly introduced to her exhaustingly inequitable journey to find love.
Much of the horror in the film isn’t actually supernatural and like a lot of period pieces set around this timeline it explores the battle between religious zealotry and human empathy. The abstinent belief that all parties must conform to a certain way of living generally always leads to an inevitable upheaval. It’s the fear of change that often creates dissention and evil. This message has been visualised in cinema countless times before and often better. Tentative lovers whose relationship is outlawed beyond their control finally fight back against the authoritative decision makers. It’s almost a Shakespearean tragedy. So what does this film do differently to stand out? Unfortunately not enough. Not until the end anyway.
I did struggle at times to stay interested, especially through the first act. The pace won’t be for everybody and if your horror sensitivity leans towards jump scares or frightening imagery rather than eerie ambience then you’ll probably zone out quickly. While there certainly is a mysterious element to the storytelling, it kinda felt like everything was being stretched out to bolster the running time, which happens to be just under 90 minutes. There’s a discernible amount of tension created during the questioning and when we find out that Mary and Eleanor are together, all of which feels like it’s leading to some sort of cataclysmic event. That being said, we do get a fairly shocking and rewarding payoff.
The director and cinematographer do absolutely everything in their power to make this film look and feel authentic. Most scenes are lit naturally by candlelight and bathed in dark shadows. There is definitely a creepy atmosphere present but it’s begging for something a little extra. It’s difficult to put my finger on just what that extra is but it lingered in the air too many times for me not to notice it.
Stefanie Scott and Isabelle Fuhrman who play the banned couple are both really good. You feel their love for each other and their growing frustration as their relationship is written off as a fruitless dalliance by the house. Branded as sinful transgressors, Mary and Eleanor initially concoct a plan that allows for secret liaisons and then the plan grows into something else entirely. The introduction of Rory Culkin as a stranger with a birthmark on his face definitely helps to turn the screw a little bit more and opens up the possibility of a supernatural revelation. The forbidden love story unfolds in the backdrop of something evil that permeates teasingly throughout in the guise of a leather bound book with hand drawn pictures. The end, as mentioned above, is rewarding and even though it is drowned in ambiguity it feels biblical at its core. Props to Judith Roberts who reprises some of her disturbing menace (albeit a tad more subtle) from James Wan’s super underrated ‘Dead Silence’ as the Matriarch. There’s a lesson to be learned in one of the messages the ending is trying to deliver; silence cannot lead to anything good. That feels as relevant as ever and many of the themes in the film; forbidden love, fear of the unknown, the aversion to diversity, all feel like they could strike a chord with any young person watching it today.
While ‘The Last Thing Mary Saw’ is rather bleak and harrowing, the genuine intimacy of the two lead performances coupled with a satisfactory and ghoulish ending makes it all worthwhile. The very last scene, which teases a more profound connection between Mary and the Matriarch, might even give you an excuse to rewatch it for a further analysis if you’re that way inclined.
- Gavin Logan