Making his feature film directorial debut, Edoardo Vitaletti transports us back to a wintery 1843 in The Last Thing Mary Saw. Set mainly inside an isolated and spacious gothic farmhouse, Edoardo Vitaletii – who also penned the script – pulls no punches in this unsettling occult period piece starring Rory Culkin, Isabelle Fuhrman, Judith Roberts, and Stephanie Scott. If you liked Robert Egger’s slow-burn The Witch, you’d feel right at home with this film, otherwise, steer very clear and don’t look back.
Something dark and mysterious has happened at the farmhouse. The Last Thing Mary Saw opens with a blindfolded girl with blood running down her face as she recounts a series of events that have led to her capture. In what appears to be an interrogation or inquest, she reluctantly reveals how her family’s matriarch met her untimely death to the lieutenant and his constables. The film is cut into several acts and periodically cuts back to Mary’s chilling interrogation throughout. During the film’s lean 90 minute runtime, we get to spend time with the family, particularly Mary and housemaid Eleanor. The two are romantically involved, and their desire to together ultimately sets off the chain of events that follow. This “unholy thing” that is their relationship is answered back with multiple instances of torture and punishment, one painful one being having to lean on uncooked rice with bare knees for hours at a time. And yes, it looks as painful as it sounds. Kudos to the sound design team for delivering such a crisp and brutal sound effect; I will never look at rice the same ever again. Because of this deeply rooted problem within this family, the two girls have to find a way to keep their romance intact but without being caught. Through these actions, a darker, ageless force begins to unfold and wreak havoc on the family.
I don’t want to reveal too much, but I will say that the horror in The Last Thing Mary Saw, although subdued and lowkey, is surprisingly effective due to Edoardo Vitaletti’s style of filmmaking. His stillness and patience for scenes to breathe are impeccable; though there are many long stretches of nothingness going on screen, he allows the atmosphere to speak for itself. From the dingy candle-lit hallways of the basement to the haunting exterior shots of the farmhouse accented in a hazy dark grey, the film is a feast for the senses. There are many times I’ve found myself just marveling at the dining room decor and the attention to detail in every glassware and silverware of the time. The acting is also sublime. Judith Roberts plays the Matriarch in such a creepy and offputting way, but you can’t keep your eyes off of her. She is scary-looking for sure, but her delivery is pitch-perfect and sends chills down your spine, especially as the film continues onto its hellish conclusion.
The first act of The Last Thing Mary Saw is, without a doubt, its weakest and probably the most challenging one to get through for first-time viewers. The whole movie is relatively slow, but the first act is mainly the most uneventful and will demand your commitment from the outset. Still, if you allow the gorgeous atmosphere to wash over you as you wait for the spooky things, then you will be justly rewarded. While the first act sets the table for the rest of the plot, the second and third acts are the hardest hitting and the most entertaining. In the second act, we get introduced to Rory Culkin’s character, aptly named The Intruder. This uneasy yet strangely charming character is a treat to watch, and Rory Culkin does a standout job bringing the uneasiness into the fold. He is a mysterious character, and you can feel the tension every time he’s on-screen, especially with scenes involving Eleanor. Once Rory Culkin shows up, the movie finally kicks it to a higher gear, and the horror machine begins to purr.
The Last Thing Mary Saw finishes with a bang. With a strong ensemble cast, a riveting second and third act, and an atmosphere rich in mystery and dread, how can you go wrong? Easily one of my favorite films of the Fantasia International Film Festival, The Last Thing Mary Saw, surprised me in spades and reminded me of why I love horror and period pieces when complimented so well together. Then again, if movies like The Witch and 2019’s The Lighthouse couldn’t hold your attention, you should probably skip The Last Thing Mary Saw. I say, come for the mid-19th century aesthetic and stay for the shocking ending. It will be worth the wait.
The Last Thing Mary Saw is premiering at the Fantasia International Film Festival.
The Last Thing Mary Saw
- Rating - 9/109/10
The Last Thing Mary Saw finishes with a bang. With a strong ensemble cast, a riveting second and third act, and an atmosphere rich in mystery and dread, how can you go wrong? Easily one of my favorite films of the Fantasia International Film Festival, The Last Thing Mary Saw, surprised me in spades and reminded me of why I love horror and period pieces when complimented so well together. I say, come for the mid-19th century aesthetic and stay for the shocking ending. It will be worth the wait.