The Last Thing Mary Saw Feels Like a Plodding Subplot of an 1800s Chiller

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The Last Thing Mary Saw Feels Like a Plodding Subplot of an 1800s Chiller

I have no stylistic preconceptions about blasphemous period transportations like The Last Thing Mary Saw. Count me as one of many who found themselves transfixed by Robert Eggers’ The Witch. Storytelling that flashes backward to puritanical 1600s or 1800s condemnations in God’s name doesn’t have to feel outdated or like bygone entertainment, but The Last Thing Mary Saw can’t crack such a code. Edoardo Vitaletti dares chastise our forefathers’ shameful homophobia, seen as the devil’s curse, only to sluggishly recount a ghost story too quiet to overcome sleepier village atmospheres.

It’s a story of forbidden passion as Mary (Stefanie Scott) is frowned upon for lustfully frolicking with maid Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman). Mary’s family is keen on the poorly kept secret, which puts a target on Eleanor. When the family’s matriarch (Judith Roberts) croaks, Mary finds herself under even more scrutiny. The dangerous nature of Mary’s relationship with Eleanor worsens as the matriarch’s funeral looms, but why should she accept blame? Mary and Eleanor’s happiness exists above all else, although their methods may doom what was once an innocent connection.

The Last Thing Mary Saw challenges production designers to recreate Southold, New York 1843, and it’s a moody, musty stripping of modernization. Conservative costumes and a creaky manor are dressed appropriately as God-fearing townsfolk at the time would favor, which is admittedly half the film’s battle. Audiences must believe the cast’s surroundings, from chicken coops to candlelight, folktale warnings to “impure” lifestyles. Vitaletti’s recreation lives in its olden dialects and stripped-down settings, to the point where reenactment vibes might say enough for religious period purists.

Scott and Fuhrman fight separate battles through their characters’ trajectories in the name of sexual oppression. Neither actress spoils the injustice and outrage we’re supposed to feel on their behalf, although the film’s balance does wobble as other characters interject. Mary’s surrounding family is a replicable copy-and-paste of paranoid churchgoers who see same-sex adoration as a sin. Rory Culkin disappears and reappears as the face-marked “Intruder” in a way that shrugs off weaker narrative throughlines. Scott and Fuhrman are right for their roles, both accomplished empaths, and yet the underwhelming limitations of plot captivation sell their engagement short.

There’s an overwhelming feeling that The Last Thing Mary Saw could be a subplot in a more complicated and moving feature. The script’s uncomplicated nature and an authentically dreary saturation are an unfortunate combination, moving forward like ants trudging through molasses. Poison orbs and self-defense offer the height of genre accents which barely raise a hair, commonplace amongst era-tethered tales of housebound horror. It’s just so environmentally drab. Containment should benefit claustrophobic chills, as Mary and Eleanor cannot escape the family’s gaze, and yet there’s instead a weakened sense of supernatural dread.

Where The Witch unleashes disturbed cinematography or Lizzie swings a vicious ax, The Last Thing Mary Saw is a duller distillation of the fear-based corruption that faith can spread. I’ve seen filmmakers make period recreations pop and breathe excitement into cobwebbed structures. Adversely, The Last Thing Mary Saw feels restrained by its means—unable to emphasize its ultimate payoffs—and beholden to a tiptoe pace that won’t ensnare all audiences. Anyone can recognize the power behind the messaging at its concept’s core. Still, there’s nothing signature to separate The Last Thing Mary Saw from other 1800s chillers left in the dust by titles like The Wind or Bone Tomahawk. “The Old Lady of Bethabara” does her best to spook our tainted souls with blackened appendages, and yet all I’m left thinking about is how the experience feels longer than projects double its not-even-90-minute length.

Director: Edoardo Vitaletti
Writer: Edoardo Vitaletti
Starring: Isabelle Fuhrman, Stefanie Scott, Rory Culkin
Release Date: January 20, 2022 (Shudder)

Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread to the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.

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