The Last Thing Mary Saw is available on horror channel Shudder, it’s a supernatural horror that goes easy on the horror whilst still managing to provide a chilling account of a young girl’s interrogation after the sudden disappearance of her grandmother from a repressively religious household.
Set in the puritan town of Southold, New York in 1843 the film begins with the interrogation of the young farm girl Mary (Steffanie Scott) who is sat with blood trickling from behind her blindfolded. She is under suspicion regarding her grandmother’s disappearance and the hostile manner in which she is made to read the Lord’s Prayer by her interrogators is a clear indication of her guilt, certainly for the town’s law enforcement. The interrogating constable (Daniel Pearce) has a somewhat incongruously sympathetic ear for her story in comparison to the other bible wielding figures in the baying community, as he intriguingly clutches a book which plays a central role in Mary’s interrogation.
We flashback into the events leading up to the disappearance, beginning with Mary’s relationship with the maid (Isabelle Fuhrman), which has come to the worrying attention of her parents who are in religious hysterics and despair over their daughter’s carrying ons with the maid, “They long for one another’s touch and they do so in bright sunlight,” her mother cries. As a result the parents have turned to the wisdom of the household’s matriarch, the grandmother (Judith Roberts) for guidance, who cuts a foreboding figure.
Because the family’s relatives refuse to take the maid on themselves the matriarch decides “correction” is the only way forward before the girl can be moved. The grandmother administers a painful punishment to the ‘sinful’ girls who have to kneel on dried rice whilst reciting prayers for prolonged periods. This proves to be just one of the callous measures used to intimidate the inhabitants into conforming behaviour and to understand there is no escape.
From first time feature film director Edoardo Vitaletti this is a well-crafted film that atmospherically captures the period. Set on location at an imposing wooden farmhouse the candle lit scenes by night and the overcast shots by day give a sense of a harsh puritanical time assisted by the remarkably dour costumes and funny looking chin strap beards. The cast convincingly draw you further into this world with the angelic looking girls wishing to explore their feelings for each other but their secret liaisons are never far from prying eyes. They are up against the might of the matriarchal grandmother played with a disturbing puritanical presence and each supporting actor brings an additional righteous or non righteous quirkiness to the proceedings.
What is impressive from the writing and direction is the way in which Vitaletti leads you to water without forcing any graphic detail upon you and still manages to maintain a gripping edge. There are one or two surprising moments which seem to have caught even the director by surprise. They may be there by design as a way of portraying the higher forces at work but there is also what seems to be a significantly large plot hole unreported but regardless of this the story still holds together carrying a claustrophobic menace throughout.
It’s an interesting period of American history for the story to indulge in playing with the religious and moral themes that must have been relevant at the time and adding its own supernatural twist. Horror fans may come away disappointed if they are expecting to be hiding behind their seats as this has a much slower insidious manner and has as much in common with a Romeo and Juliet tragedy for an LGBTQ audience than as an out and out horror.
Film: The Last Thing Mary Saw
Director: Edoardo Vitaletti
Stars: Rory Culkin,Isabelle Fuhrman,Judith Roberts,Stefanie Scott
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Run time: 1hr 28min