Who knew hot girl summer actually meant we’d be getting a ton of witch-trial era horrors? The Fear Street Trilogy (particularly 1666) epically detailed the struggles of Sara Fier, indie darling Hellbender also premiered at Fantasia and was subsequently picked up by Shudder, and the elegant folk horror The Last Thing Mary Saw adds even more fire to the flames.
Written and Directed by Edoardo Vitaletti in his feature debut, The Last Thing Mary Saw transports us to a New York manor house in 1843, where an affluent and pious family deal with their daughter’s sinister afflictions. She’s hot for the housemaid. Okay, it’s a lot more romantic than that, I promise.
Mary (Stefanie Scott, Insidious: Chapter 3), who we first see blinded and on trial for what we can assume to be witchcraft, takes us back to simpler times at the manor house, when her and housemaid Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman, Orphan) secretly courted in quiet rooms, shadowy corners, and chicken coups. Her family, wise to the couple’s queer-minded intentions, frequently punish the girls. Unable to send Eleanor away as no one would have her, the two are forced to kneel on sharp blades of rice, reciting scripture for hours on end, while the families’ sinisterly devout Matriarch (Judith Roberts, Dead Silence) looms over them.
However, the families’ punishments can’t stop love and the girls continue to meet despite the gruesome punishments they endure. Eleanor bribes the kind and disabled night guard Theodore (P.J. Sosko) to turn a blind eye as the girls sneak outside in the night, reading poems by lantern in the chicken coop. It is there that The Last Thing Mary Saw takes a sinister and confounding turn; the bookEleanor reads, an inherited heirloom plundered from the wealthy family, begins predicting every event exactly as it unfolds.
These events are sectioned in The Last Thing Mary Saw by chapter headers throughout the film, each spotlighting a unique story within a story within a story. The blinding of Eleanor, The death of the Matriarch, and a mysterious visit from an Intruder (Rory Culkin, Lords of Chaos), to name a few.
“…the horror is unveiled silent like a velvet curtain being pulled off an oil painting as it debuts.”
While the individual stories never fail to deliver shock, awe, and terror as whole, The Last Thing Mary Saw remains confusing up until the credits roll. Audiences will be bewildered by visual reveals early on in the film, but they don’t really make waves within the story as should be expected. The Matriarch is haunting and untrustworthy throughout, perhaps because she’s draped in black lace as a corpse in one end of the dining room for most of the film, or because Judith Roberts was perfectly cast in the role, but clarity to her intentions and connection to the main story remain confusing.
There is much tragedy, witchcraft and horror throughout, but where it leads I still don’t understand. Mary begins and ends the story blinded by horrors, and though she tries to reveal to us why, I left the film feeling I got only the events and lacked the full story.
Though the film’s plot confounded me, the visuals of The Last Thing Mary Saw are top-notch. The palette is hauntingly dark and drab, perfect for an isolated story enrobed in mystery. The atmosphere is thick here, and much of the horror is unveiled silent like a velvet curtain being pulled off an oil painting as it debuts.
And too, there are many wonderful performances throughout. Isabelle Fuhrman lights up every scene, even though Eleanor’s story is a harrowing one. Rory Culkin, who only appears briefly in the latter half, shakes things up with a jolt — a scoundrel hiding behind his honest and typically trustworthy demeanor. And I know I already mentioned Judith Roberts, but she is so haunting and terrifyingly elegant that it can’t go without saying again. Please put this woman in every single horror movie for the rest of forever.
“..a gorgeous haunt..”
Overall, The Last Thing Mary Sawis a gorgeous haunt that struggles with story, but beautifully depicts the prejudices of yesteryear through a magical, and sometimes utterly terrifying lens.
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