A bleak tale of a family keeping too close to Christian doctrine. While The Last Thing Mary Saw doesn’t bring any new ideas to the table, it has an effective atmosphere that grows darker by the minute.
Winter, 1843. Young Mary (Stefanie Scott) is under investigation following the mysterious death of her family’s matriarch. Her recollection of the events sheds new light on the ageless forces behind the tragedy.
It is a stripped-back film that takes advantage of its setting to twist the knife into its two leads, blossoming slowly but forever fruitless romance. Unfortunately, same-sex relationships were not the wisest decisions people in the 1840s could try and follow through with. As Mary and Eleanor discover, it leads to horrific pain in this harrowing film. When it is said The Last Thing Mary Saw is stripped back, it is really meant, but everything included (for the most part) works very well. The limited lighting has you feeling closed in and nervous, certainly when the two go off to find places to be together away from prying and judging eyes. Add to this the lack of dialogue (horrifically so in one long scene), and you sense the dread and defeatism that some of the characters hold within them. Worn down from ever-increasing judgement and punishment, you become wary of these characters.
Some of the suspense that the film holds over us is slightly tarnished by the opening scenes existence. Knowing that it is Mary under investigation for something, when we venture back into the events that caused her arrest, we already know more than those characters, which rarely work in a film. Our only suspense for when we inevitably come back to Mary at the end of her investigation is what happens to her. Not playing the events in order makes us lose so much more of the stomach punch The Last Thing Mary Saw would have provided. Especially so when what is happening at that house is compelling enough. To break away from chapter breaks is a serious mistake to the flow of the entire piece. If there is a reason for such a narrative structure, then fine, but when if not and it is actively taking away the momentum, you are left to wonder why.
As said, when we are in the core of the film, it moves along wonderfully; we see the desperation in Mary and the maid Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman) as they try to work out what their next step should be. The family led by their matriarch (Judith Roberts) are in no doubt of the evil that exists in the two young women’s relationship and seeks to remove it from home savagely, but crucially not to remove the maid from it due to the fact that no one will take her because of the rumours. With the two groups trying to navigate each other, an almost chilling game of cat and mouse sneaks into the film. Add the slightly clunky inclusion of supernatural themes, and we have a very solid movie full of suspense.
Director Edoardo Vitaletti brings a wonderfully textured visual style to his film, and with mostly just natural light to fill the screen, we see far more than we would have thought possible. Small things are given gorgeous detail, from piles of loaves of freshly baked bread to a bloody severed finger, all ably assisted by cinematographer David Kruta. Atmosphere comes off the screen here, and with Keegan DeWitt’s minimal and careful score, it becomes a film that knows where to place its exclamation mark.
Gorgeously framed and with actors giving great performances, The Last Thing Mary Saw is a film you should search for (Word is it will be on Shudder early 2022). A film for fans of slow-burn suspense, this is a movie that does its best to reward you by the finale.
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