Tragedy begets tragedy, and star-crossed lovers are doomed to obscurity. For centuries, people have found ways to love each other despite obstacles placed in their way. However, finding this love rarely ended with a happily-ever-after. In 2020, the “Lesbian Period Drama” surprisingly became a punchline to a joke, as if many of these features were not among the year’s best films. In 2021, The Last Thing Mary Saw takes the story of two women falling in love during the 19th century and adds a ferocious supernatural element to the story. The resulting film may move slow, but it is unlikely to leave your mind anytime soon.
The Last Thing Mary Saw follows Mary (Stefanie Scott) as she recounts the tragic events that left her blind. After falling in love with Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman), the house’s maid, Mary’s family will stop at nothing to keep them apart. Mary’s nosy brother Matthew (Elijah Rayman) continually interrupts their passionate moments. The Matriarch (Judith Roberts) of the family employs more supernatural means. Soon, Mary’s world turns into chaos, torture, and death as the world tries to stomp out a love they cannot understand.
Directed and written by Edoardo Vitaletti, The Last Thing Mary Saw oozes style from its earliest frames. The provincial setting of a mid-19th century town comes to life with creaks and moans of the wooden houses. You can feel the wind slipping through cracks in the walls, and the sound design heightens the other-worldly quality of the setting. Vitaletti does not shroud the themes of his narrative but effectively executes his exploration of a world that does not understand the love of its women.
Additionally, Vitaletti knows how to execute his scares to perfection. A blown-out candle makes your skin crawl as cries echo through the night. The absence of sound is even more disturbing, and your skin will crawl as the tension builds. The visuals often speak louder than the dialogue, creating the air of fear through slow-moving pans and background movements. There are few opportunities for jump-scares, and the film instead overwhelms you with dark narratives and imagery.
Each of the actresses delivers on their complicated characters, with Fuhrman showcasing her incredible range. As the film progresses, her ability to emote and provide information in a glance becomes even more critical to the success of the film. Her partner on screen, Scott, is more than up to the task of shouldering the narrative burden of the second half of the film. She wears her emotion on her sleeve, at least as much as one could in 19th century America. As she wrestles with the morally complex events of the narrative, Scott walks the line between the relatable and the irredeemable protagonist.
The Last Thing Mary Saw does fall prey to some ill-conceived characters. A stranger’s appearence in the back half of the film feels more distracting than integral to the plot. Many of the film’s events could still have played out as they do without the external force, perhaps in an even more terrifying fashion. There are some moments in the film that slow to a snail’s pace, squandering the building momentum between acts. The framing device for the film, which features Mary telling her story to an investigator, is unneeded. Trimming a few scenes might have tightened the film up.
With stellar performances, excellent atmosphere, and a gnarly conclusion, The Last Thing Mary Saw earns a place in the discussion for the best horror films of 2021. The unsettling visions crafted for the film create dozens of scary moments. Vitaletti’s debut promises a bright future for the young director. For Fuhrman and Scott, the two actresses should find themselves very busy in the next few years.
GRADE: 8 out of 10
What do you think of The Last Thing Mary Saw? Let us know in the comments below! See The Last Thing Mary Saw at Fantasia Fest 2021!