In life, true fear does not come from ghouls and what goes bump in the night, but from the disapproval and malcontent of those closest to us. Similar to Robert Eggers’ The Witch, The Last Thing Mary Saw is a stark reminder of how one is not born with evil inside them, but rather fueled by the hatred and wickedness of others.
The Mary of the film’s title is not inherently a bad woman. Mary (Stefanie Scott) is simply a young woman in love in the mid-1800s. The problem is that the eye of Mary’s affection is Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman), the family’s maid. The passion between the couple is unsightly and embarrassing for Mary’s family, prompting forms of “correction” for the two women.
The problem with this “correction”, led by The Matriarch (Judith Roberts), is that it’s carried out in the name of The Lord. The Matriarch weaponizes the power of prayer by forcing “sinners” Mary and Eleanor to pray while their knees are positioned on grains of rice for hours at a time. Just like the generations before and after Mary, religion is used as justification for cruel treatment towards outsiders.
It’s not just those of different sexual orientations that are abused either. The Intruder (Rory Culkin) was tortured in his youth due to a large birthmark on his right eye. While that is clearly a genetic abnormality today, those in the 1800s saw it as the mark of the devil. It’s hasty judgements and self-fulfilling prophecies like what happened to The Intruder and Mary that lead these individuals down a path of darkness, not their physical appearances or who they love.
To go down the rabbit hole of evil in The Last Thing Mary Saw would be one rife with twists and turns that are better left seen in the actual film than read in the written word. Director Edoardo Vitaletti takes a number of gutsy gambles in his feature length directorial debut. Some pay off immensely, like the decision to have nearly the entire third act devoid of dialogue. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, the movie would have likely fallen apart, yet Vitaletti sets up visual motifs and looking relations in the first two acts that help carry the eerily quiet finale.
Other risks taken in the feature slightly miss the mark. The supernatural elements scattered throughout have potential but aren’t explored enough to be as intriguing and nerve-racking as the theme of the vileness of family. The Last Thing Mary Saw is a question as much as it is a statement. The question of what the young woman witnessed draw you into the film, but it’s the realization of what Mary discovers that stays with you long after the credits roll.
The Silver Lining
Judith Roberts gives a fantastic performance as the sinister ‘saint’, The Matriarch. Despite her holy speech and placement in the familial structure, The Matriarch has an aura of evil to her that is only heightened by Roberts’ well orchestrated expressions. While The Last Thing Mary Saw is mostly devoid of typical scares, Roberts’ devilish grin midway through the film is spine-tingling establishes her presence in the film even when she’s not on screen.
The Last Thing Mary Saw had its world premiere at The 2021 Fantasia Film Festival and will be available on Shudder in early 2022.