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Diablo Joe Reviews The Last Thing Mary Saw

Posted in Diablo Joe Reviews by Neal at 09:24, Feb 05 2022

"The Last Thing Mary Saw"
review by Diablo Joe

Now streaming on Shudder

"The Last Thing Mary Saw"

Set in a small, insular, and strict mid-19th Century Calvinist household community, Edoardo Vitaletti’s debut feature, currently streaming on Shudder, “The Last Thing Mary Saw,” is a darkly mysterious film. It excoriates the moral assertions of the deeply pious while simultaneously gracing its audience with an original and supremely atmospheric supernatural tale. It is a film filled with fine, subtle performances and hauntingly beautiful imagery.

“The Last Thing Mary Saw” opens with a questioning of the title character (“Insidious: Chapter 3’s” Stefanie Scott) by the local constabulary. The authorities warily interrogate her as blood seeps from beneath a bandage around her eyes. We then led back through the events that brought Mary to this point, guided in part by the chapters of a small, mysterious, and, to some, profane book. Mary has developed a secret love with the family’s young housemaid, Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman, in a role as diametrically different from her turn in 2009’s “Orphan” as could be). The two fail in their attempts to keep the relationship—intolerable at best in these times, but an abomination to Mary’s kin—a secret, and Mary’s oppressively severe matriarch cruelly punishes the two. Mary and Eleanor plot to escape Mary’s family. But fate, along with things menacingly evil, both human and more supernatural, forces the girl’s hands to ever darker inevitabilities.

Puritanical societies and horror have long gone hand-in-hand. The Inquisition and Salem Witch Trials sowed fertile soil for many a dark tale, with the Church and its adherents often becoming examples of how human evil can be just as terrifying as the supernatural kind. Although set centuries later, “The Last Thing Mary Saw” brilliantly uses its post-Colonial Long Island locale. With that area, so remote and isolated and with a historically Puritan background, it almost seems as if the film is taking place decades earlier. A sense of displaced, eerie dread and other-worldliness permeates the entire movie. The film’s cinematography frames the spare but period-accurate décor of the film’s production design in dim, flickering pools of candlelight. The overall effect is positively ominous.

None of this would matter if the film’s story and cast did not engage and deliver. Speaking of the latter, they are, to a one, superb. As the film’s love-fraught young pair, Scott and Fuhrman are excellent. They express their adoration and devotion for one another’s characters with believability and grace, careful that their attentions never deviate into the prurient. When the film affords them a few moments of happiness together, it is palpable. The pair are the only ones in the entire picture to express even a modicum of joy. As the sternly cruel family matriarch, Judith Roberts, who some may barely recognize as “Eraserhead’s” Beautiful Girl Across the Hall, is terrifying and malevolent. And, in a brief but pivotal appearance, Rory Culkin proves to be an unnervingly menacing presence. Portraying a family draped in a shroud of propriety and reserve, the entirety of the rest of the ensemble underplays their roles to perfection.

That same subdued restraint carries through in the tone of the direction, and the film’s script, by director Vitaletti, smartly plays its cards close to its vest. So many horror films pitch themselves at such a high level of tension and energy that they leave themselves nowhere to go. But “The Last Thing Mary Saw” is, like the world it portrays, buttoned-up and reserved to the point that even the slightest deviation or shift in tone unsettles us, let alone its moments of true horror. It’s also not a film that resolves all its questions, and the audience is allowed to make its own suppositions. Some viewers may desire more answers, but “The Last Thing Mary Saw” is, in the end, a film that fulfills, both thematically and structurally. Even as the final shot fades out, it possesses a sense of mystery. And it suits the picture.

“The Last Thing Mary Saw” is a perfect film for audiences who appreciate literate horror cinema that takes its time to develop both mood and character. It’s a mature and terrifyingly impressive debut for writer/director Vitaletti, a testament to the talents of its cast, and one of the more unique horror films to come about in recent years.

This devil of a reviewer gives “The Last Thing Mary Saw” 4 out of 5 imps

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