23rd Aug2021

Fantasia 2021: ‘The Last Thing Mary Saw’ Review

by Jim Morazzini

Stars: Stefanie Scott, Isabelle Fuhrman, Judith Roberts, Rory Culkin | Written and Directed by Edoardo Vitaletti

The Last Thing Mary Saw begins with an ominous quote from John Calvin, “All events whatsoever are governed by the secret counsel of God.” And God, or a twisted interpretation of His words, will have a large part to play in the events that unfold before us.

It’s December 3rd 1843 in Southold, New York. A young woman, Mary (Stefanie Scott; Insidious: The Last Key, Girl in the Basement), is being interrogated about a series of deaths at her family home. A blindfold covers the two empty sockets where her eyes used to be so she doesn’t see the rifles aimed at her as she tells her story.

Mary is the daughter of a wealthy family. It’s also a repressively devout one and her life has little joy apart from her relationship with her maid Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman; Orphan, Down A Dark Hall). A relationship that brings disapproval and harsh punishment from her family, especially her Grandmother (Judith Roberts; Eraserhead, You Were Never Really Here). The pair plan to flee with the help of another servant who has suffered at the hands of the family’s elders. But the arrival of The Intruder (Rory Culkin; Lords Of Chaos, Intruders) disrupts their plans. It also unleashes the dark forces residing in the house.

The Last Thing Mary Saw fits in well with two other films from this year’s Fantasia. Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror and The Righteous, another story of a devout and troubled family plunged into chaos by the arrival of a stranger. I wish I’d realized this ahead of time and watched them as a block.

As a film in it’s own rights, The Last Thing Mary Saw is an exercise in atmosphere and visual poetry. Writer/director Edoardo Vitaletti stages much of the film’s events without dialogue, relying on facial expressions and body language to convey the character’s feelings. These scenes are often beautifully lit by the light of flickering candles and cinematographer David Kruta (12 Kilometers, Chimera Strain) makes the most of it.

It’s a beauty that contrasts with the ugliness of what it illuminates. The repression and mistreatment that are responsible for what happens as much as any supernatural entity. It creates a sense of foreboding because we know something is going to happen. Even if The Last Thing Mary Saw wasn’t told in flashback we know that this kind of evil done in the name of all things holy would not end well. And they don’t as the consequences of everyone’s actions come back to literally and figuratively haunt them in the film’s final act.

Low on gore and jump scares but full of dread and unease, The Last Thing Mary Saw builds to a grim and chilling final half hour. Chilling not just for the events on screen, but as a reminder of the the consequences of the kind of religious extremism we see making a comeback today. We’re already seeing laws allowing doctors to refuse treatment to LGBTQ people for “religious” reasons. How long before the treatment Mary and Eleanor faced is made legal again in the name of Jesus?

**** 4/5

The Last Thing Mary Saw screened as part of this years Fantasia Film Festival.

Review originally posted on Voices From the Balcony.

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