The Last Thing Mary Saw could’ve been a gripping queer horror about religious oppression, but is sadly limited by its humdrum and unconvincing plot.
Period pieces entrenched in horror, especially the kind that delve into religious condemnations turned awry like The Witch and Apostle, are usually difficult to capture in terms of atmosphere and complexity. Edoardo Vitaletti’s The Last Thing Mary Saw earnestly attempts at the same, but is ultimately bogged down by narrative execution that feels lackluster, soulless, and contrived. The Last Thing Mary Saw could’ve been a gripping queer horror about religious oppression, but is sadly limited by its humdrum and unconvincing plot.
Set at a strict Calvinist household in 1843, The Last Thing Mary Saw opens with a pretty straightforward premise, in which a blindfolded Mary (Stefanie Scott), with blood dripping from her bandaged eyes, recounts the core narrative to the town constable. A terrible crime has taken place, the details of which the viewers are not privy to in the beginning, but the all-male town jury is terrified of Mary for some reason, believing her to be the devil incarnate. Recounting the horrors that befall her family, Mary explains how she was involved in a then “forbidden” relationship with her housemaid Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman), much to the chagrin of her God-fearing family, who view the bond as sinful and blasphemous.
Although Vitaletti aims to make a strong case against shameful homophobia and cruelty fueled by religious beliefs, the culmination is a dull, superficial portrait of these complex issues, treated without much thought or nuance. An eerie aura surrounds the setting of Southold, New York of the time period, drenched perpetually in candlelight, folk superstitions, and bared-down aesthetics, with the rest of Mary’s family carrying out acts that can only be seen as irredeemably evil. Concerned about their daughter’s behavior, Mary’s parents turn to the family matriarch (Judith Roberts) for “correction,” which involves isolation and kneeling bare-skinned on uncooked rice for days in a row. Running away is also not an option for Mary and Eleanor, as evidenced by the case of constantly terrified family guard Theodore (P.J.Sosko), who almost lost his legs after an attempt to flee (one of the members had clubbed his knees with brute force).
With things being already so bleak and dreary, the plot of The Last Thing Mary Saw skirts into convoluted territory thereafter, plunging into a series of events that hardly make any narrative sense. The melding of human cruelty and the terrors of the supernatural fall flat instead of being gripping, although the premise of a cursed book of poems could have potentially elevated the tale as a whole. In the end, it is difficult to parse the film’s core message, as the ending only reinforces the dangerous idea that women like Mary and Eleanor should be punished brutally for their “transgressions,” with the turn of events being presented as a horrendous deus (or diabolus) ex machina of sorts.
In a film as monotonous and tonally confusing as The Last Thing Mary Saw, it is indeed difficult to gauge the merit of performances, as the plot barely allows for the characters to grow beyond their two-dimensional traits. Fuhrman delivers an empathetic performance as Eleanor, emoting convincingly via mere glances and unexpressed rage, but Scott’s rigid rendition of Mary harms the film to a considerable extent. The two leads have little to no genuine chemistry, while wild-card entries such as The Intruder (Rory Culkin) serve no logical purpose, robbing the tale of its core agency. No matter how structured The Last Thing Mary Saw would like to think it is via its chapter segregations, it is intrinsically a muddled, monotonous 1800s horror with the hollow trappings of its cinematic peers.
The Last Thing Mary Saw is available for streaming on Shudder as of January 20, 2022. The film is 89 minutes long and remains unrated as of now.
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Originally posted 2022-01-22 15:55:47.