The Last Thing Mary Saw, 2022
Written and Directed by Edoardo Vitaletti.
Starring Stefanie Scott, Isabelle Fuhrman, Rory Culkin, Judith Roberts, Carolyn McCormick, Michael Laurence, Shane Coffey, Dawn McGee, Daniel Pearce, Tommy Buck, and P.J. Sosko.
Winter, 1843. A young woman 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.
Writer and director Edoardo Vitaletti deserves some props for building and maintaining an unsettling atmosphere throughout The Last Thing Mary Saw, but his script (especially its failure to dig deeper into these characters) lags. By the end, despite all the wrongdoing, tragedy, and horrific crimes (all of which come at the expense of controlled and oppressed women) during this highly religious 19th-century New York era (which is severely lacking in its attempts to evoke an authentic sense of place and time amidst the supernatural elements), the characters still felt empty and the story ineffective regardless of its consistent intrigue.
The release plan doesn’t help matters, as it’s hard not to think about the go-for-broke the madness and skewering of religion found in Benedetta, even if there are no nuns here. However, a same-sex relationship is going on between a noblewoman and a servant (played by Stefanie Scott and Isabelle Fuhrman, respectively) that the former’s overzealous family has caught wind of and naturally disapproves of. This results in some punishment and uncertainty over what to do about the maid considering no other household has taken what they perceive to be a woman doing the devil’s work.
Chief among the problems here is that the central dynamic between the eponymous Mary and her forbidden love with Eleanor feels underwritten. The script is more concerned with kicking the plot into motion rather than setting up much reason to feel involved beyond outrage at their mistreatment. Nevertheless, the couple finds a companion in a guard (P.J. Sosko), although they still have to contend against a snooping younger boy (Shane Coffey), a mysteriously creepy matriarch (Judith Roberts), and an unexpected evil traveler (a menacing jolt provided by Rory Culkin) whose actions throw a wrench into some of the planning.
One of the more interesting themes present here is about the dangers of curiosity, but there’s also not much satisfaction to the questions brought up. If anything, the explanation is partially lame and executed cheaply, with some revealing backstory that feels convenient and unearned. Ironically, once this character is gone (so to speak), there is one chilling sequence crosscutting bizarre funeral antics with real-world trauma. It’s the closest The Last Thing Mary Saw comes to achieving its intended suffocating suspense rather than drifting along in limbo until the predictable third act set piece unfolds (it’s impossible not to know it’s coming, consider how much the object factors into the dialogue).
A framing device also sees Mary under prosecution for the events that unfold over these brisk 89 minutes, notably blinded and blindfolded with blood dripping down from the sockets. It’s a disturbing sight that shows Edoardo Vitaletti is reasonably competent at engaging an audience through appropriately unpleasant visuals and cold atmosphere, but it’s not enough to generate an emotional impact for its heavy climax. That’s to say that there are magnetic moments here and a decent amount to enjoy, just that it’s all undercut by how little there is to care about.
It’s also a shame that The Last Thing Mary Saw fails these characters because one would imagine that both Stefanie Scott and Isabelle Fuhrman (most known as the child from Orphan but can also be seen right now in the harrowing body horror rowing drama The Novice) are ambitious and bold enough to handle the story putting the characters first. I can only assume the first thing Mary saw was the potential of this narrative squandered.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]
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