Fantasia Film Festival 2021
The Last Thing That Mary Saw Review
Fantasia 2021: New York, 1843. Mary (Stefanie Scott) is under investigation following the death of her family’s matriarch; newly blinded, she recounts her story to the investigating officer, detailing her relationship with the maid, Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman), and the abuse both suffered at the hands of Mary’s domineering family.
Bleak, both visually and narratively, this psychological horror explores themes of homophobia, religion, and family loyalty, but none below the surface level. Seemingly a straightforward story of what oppression drives people to do, the film tries to do too much all at once, from the supernatural, to poison, to murder, not sticking around long enough to delve into any of it.
At an easy 90 minutes, the film doesn’t outstay its welcome, but doesn’t settle at any point either. Written and directed by Edoardo Vitaletti (his feature debut), scenes flit from one to the other without making any impact, despite the levitations and violence, and characters can barely finish their thoughts before progressing. For example, a mid-movie appearance from a fairly well-known actor is played as a reveal, but almost immediately dwindles in on itself – it is eventually consequential, but empty.
The film is not entirely without its merits, however. Vitaletti does do a good job of wringing tension when the film demands, with long sequences devoid of speaking characters and an intensifying score, whilst also avoiding the dreaded jump scare (this is, after all, far more psychological than “traditional” horror). It can tip into self-indulgence, particularly in the latter half, when the narrative relies on convenience as opposed to out-of-the-box thinking, but its glacial pacing benefits its lack of focus.
The cast are also good with what they’re given; both leads are convincing as lovers trying to survive an abusive situation – particularly Fuhrman, whose presence holds a quiet rage no matter who she’s with at any given time – and Judith Roberts as the Matriarch of the crumbling family is suitably creepy, the film’s default antagonist (although which side of the religious spectrum she falls on remains unclear).
There is something to be mined in the sub-genre of period horror, and ideas not explored yet on screen, but The Last Thing Mary Saw does very little to propel it forward, instead, looking to the cinematic landscapes of the past to fill it out. Uninventive, languid, and slightly on the dull side, it’s hard to imagine it finding an audience even among the most die-hard of horror fans.