Director: Edoardo Vitaletti
Writer: Edoardo Vitaletti
Cast: Stefanie Scott, Isabelle Fuhrman, Judith Roberts, Rory Culkin
Producers: Harrison Allen, Isen Robbins, Aimee Schoof, Madeleine Schumacher, Stephen Tedeschi
Music: Keegan DeWitt
Cinematographer: David Kruta
Editor: Matthew C. Hart
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 89mins
What’s the story: Southbold, New York, 1843. In a rigidly Calvinist community, Mary (Scott) and the housemaid Eleanor (Fuhrman) are persecuted by Mary’s family when their relationship is discovered.
What’s the verdict: Over the decades, folk horror has delivered some of the genre’s finest movies. Recently there have been hits (The Witch, Midsommar) and gems waiting to be discovered (The Wind, The Ballad of Audrey Earnshaw).
Edoardo Vitaletti’s assured debut, The Last Thing Mary Saw, joins this group as another folk horror to champion. Told across three chapters, the film’s title becomes a central question to the mystery of why Mary (Scott) sits before a local lawman. And why a blindfold now covers her ruined eyes. What is not left a mystery is the toxic effect of religion on her family. Believing everything they think and do is in service of the Lord, characters are trapped in a cycle of cruelty and paranoia. Everyone may know verbatim compassionate prayers, but there is no room for charity in their deeds. .
Which bodes ill for Mary and Eleanor, drawn together by a love evidenced nowhere else in their community. Vitaletti handles the LGBTQ+ elements of the story sensitively, assisted by excellent performances from Stefanie Scott and Isabelle (Orphan, The Hunger Games) Fuhrman. Fuhrman, who really should have her pick of Hollywood’s top roles right now, emerges as the film’s MVP. Vitaletti uses her sombre but expressive face to convey the tragedy and resilience of a woman blessed and cursed with intelligence and will in the wrong place and the wrong time.
Judith Roberts’ quietly terrifying family matriarch makes for a memorable villain. Locked in her own superstition and hatred, she enables the physically stronger, mentally weaker menfolk to carry out cruel and unusual punishments against the two despised young women. The only male character of any strength and guile is a loquacious vagabond billed as The Intruder (Culkin). He is also a victim of religious mania, but is he like the Mary and Eleanor, or has he too been corrupted?
The Last Thing Mary Saw performs a danse macabre of ambiguity around superstition and actual dark forces to explain the characters’ misfortunes. A dearth of dialogue in the final stretch both heightens tension, and provides some dark comic relief. Visually, Vitaletti’s direction leans into the claustrophobia of his script, largely confining the film to the family house or stable. Tight, high angle close-ups scrutinise characters, or they are framed from below to highlight ceilings pressing down. Save for when Mary and Eleanor steal time alone or stand against their oppressors, colour is drained from the film.
Third act reveals will have audiences talking. A final grace note suggests some optimism, but in the darkest way possible. We urge you to see The Last Thing Mary Saw. And everything she witnessed before.