NOTE: Here is my review from Soda & Telepaths that was posted back on August 17, 2021
The Last Thing Mary Saw, set in 1843, tells the story of… well, Mary (Stefanie Scott), a young member of a rather large family who is well off enough to be able to have a maid, named Elanor (Isabelle Fuhrman). The family might be well off but they are also heavily religious, to the point of it being an oppressive drain on Mary who begins seeking comfort and solace with Elanor, whom she ends up falling for.
Of course, Mary’s strict religious family do not approve of this coupling and so they begin to make things worse for Mary and Elanor. Things escalate to a point of pure terror when, during a funeral service for one of the members of the extended family, a mysterious man with a port wine stain on his face and low morals (Rory Culkin) comes by, beginning the heavily religious family’s test of faith and horrors that they could not have foreseen.
The Last Thing Mary Saw relies almost entirely on secrets and silence, for most of the film there is no dialogue so everyone is just keeping things pent up inside and only expressing them in furtive looks or tiny outbursts. It creates an intense, almost suffocating atmosphere that just compounds with every passing moment. The sound mix is sublime, never relying on sudden sharp sounds for a jumpscare but instead just letting the silence overwhelm the audience until every detail, from the ticking clock to the scrape of a spoon, makes your teeth stand on end.
Even at just under 90 minutes, The Last Thing Mary Saw takes it’s time building up to its shocking climax. It starts almost innocent, reminiscent of other period lesbian dramas like Ammonite, and the longer things go on the more intense the silence gets and the worse things become. By the time the mysterious stranger with the birthmark on his face turns up, it’s already hit a 10 in terms of fear… and then that stranger kicks it up another notch.
Rory Culkin in The Last Thing Mary Saw is in the running for one of the vilest characters of the year, using his birthmark as an excuse to justify some of the most horrific acts in the film and he’s both terrifying and incredibly engaging. You want to see him just leave this house and these two women, but he’s impossible to look away from whenever he is on the screen. Indeed, everyone is just demanding your attention, from the innocent kindness that Stefanie Scott puts into every look Mary gives to anyone to the put-upon weariness Isabelle Fuhrman imbues Elanor with, especially towards the end of the film.
The final chapter of The Last Thing Mary Saw (because this is the kind of film that carves its story up into chapters that it names on screen) is easily the most intense and viscerally shocking, to the point where it almost dares you to look away at one point. Everything builds so carefully that you don’t know what to fear most, the bigotry of the family, the madman who snuck in or some supernatural being that seems to keep making a dead woman tap her finger in time with the ticking clock in the room.
From start to finish, The Last Thing Mary Saw is constantly upping the tension so carefully that you almost don’t notice. Like a frog being slowly boiled it only becomes obvious that the tension is there when you pause the film (or, in my case, have the film stop to buffer… thanks Australian NBN) and realise just how tight everything feels. Every moment just gets more and more unnerving until all hell breaks loose and the film just goes for broke… basically, be prepared for this film to depress the hell out of you, it’s actively trying to and it’s very good at it.
The Last Thing Mary Saw is a dark and impressive theatrical debut for its writer/director Edoardo Vitaletti who is definitely one to keep an eye on. This dark, constantly tense and powerful film is impossible to look away from and will have you gripping onto the edge of your seat from the shocking opening visual to the depressing final image. It’s a lot to take in, but oh god is it worth a look.