Written by: Matt Patti | August 16th, 2021
The Last Thing Mary Saw (Edoardo Vitaletti, 2021) 2 out of 4 stars.
Period-piece horror can be very effective when done well. Stories taking place during older times suit themselves well to the genre, making it quite easy to display an unsettling environment throughout the film. However, the tricky part is the character work. Many of the especially old-fashioned settings require the actors to perform as if they were of that time period, to varying results. The characters also tend to be, on average, a bit less compelling to modern-day audiences. However, some films, by giving distinctive personalities to each character and pushing their development, can still intrigue audiences and give them at least one protagonist to stand behind. Unfortunately, director Edoardo Vitaletti’s The Last Thing Mary Saw is unable to accomplish this and falls into common period-piece pitfalls.
In The Last Thing Mary Saw, a highly religious family struggles to come to grips with the sudden death of their matriarch. Meanwhile, one member of the family, a young woman named Mary (Stefanie Scott, Insidious: Chapter 3), is caught having intimate relations with her maid, Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman, Tape). The devout, god-fearing individuals of her household are appalled by this sinful behavior and enforce a strict punishment. On the day of the matriarch’s funeral, a mysterious visitor comes to the house. Soon, much worse events begin to occur, and the entire family find themselves in danger.
On the surface, The Last Thing Mary Saw has the main ingredients for an effective horror film. The film’s technical elements are very well-done. The brooding score is daunting and chilling, the cinematography is top-notch, and the more disturbing visuals are effectively unsettling. The performances are decent outside of some awkward line delivery due to the old-English dialogue spoken. The plot is also intriguing enough to hold the audience’s attention and there are many twists and turns to keep us on the edge of their seat.
However, the way in which The Last Thing Mary Saw presents its plot is where the film falters. The story is mainly told through flashbacks, as we start the film near the end of a timeline where Mary is being questioned by a constable. Therefore, the majority of the film takes place in the past. Personally, I am rarely a fan of films that use this kind of structure, and I did not change my mind here. The narrative becomes quite baffling and hard to follow at points, as it is sometimes unclear what moment of time we are in and it is difficult to determine what has happened, and not happened, yet. To director Vitaletti’s credit, the end of the film puts it all together, but for much of the middle we are slightly confused.
The largest issue I have with this film, though, is the characters. Though the performances are fine, much of Mary’s family blends together as there are few unique attributes to tell the individual members apart. Also, there is not really one character to root for throughout the film. Mary and Eleanor are obviously supposed to be the protagonists, and surely the audience feels bad for them due to the family’s unacceptance and subsequent mistreatment of them. However, they themselves are not the most inspiring characters and both partake in questionable actions that leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. Without a single truly likeable presence, the film struggles to be able to get the audience to care about the unfortunate events that are happening. No matter the degree of horrid, unspeakable things that take place, if the audience does not have an emotional connection to the characters, the events are automatically less frightening and have less of an impact.
The Last Thing Mary Saw has potential and is one of the rare cases of filmmakers getting most of the horror aspects of a film right, but it has major shortcomings elsewhere. It can still be an eerie, dreary experience for those who enjoy that sort of thing. Also, the awkward interactions between the family and Mary/Eleanor create some genuine tension, but not as much as it could because of the lack of an outstanding protagonist. Also, perhaps if the plot were told in a linear fashion, the film could also improve significantly. Unfortunately, though, The Last Thing Mary Saw falls just short of being a truly engaging experience.
[The Last Thing Mary Saw premiered at the 2021 Fantasia Festival on August 15.]