Written by Taylor Baker
The Last Thing Mary Saw is a naturalistic Victorian period piece detailing the events of our titular character Mary’s seeming descent, framed to the viewer through an interrogation sequence that begins at the outset of the film. Though the crime for which she’s possibly committed is not shared, a choice I was particularly thankful for. It stars Stefanie Scott alongside Isabelle Fuhrman, and Rory Culkin. It’s a punishing vision that while conventionally told in chapters doesn’t lose narrative thrust. With punishment doled out as frequently as the days change, it quickly corners us as viewers, not just sympathizing but aligning us with Scott’s Mary.
Edoardo Vitaletti’s camera, leers, peeks, and scurries along informing differing viewpoints. And just as quickly switches to more conventional shots that frequently but not always benefit from the natural soft lighting. While we do get by the book image sequences, familiar turgid strings backing the film to force emotion, and a forbidden love romance, there’s something personal, something simplistic and committed that allows a sincere engagement with the work despite it’s generic segments that when put together make something more.
It’s always worth noting when a film is from a first time director. And The Last Thing Mary Saw serves as not only Vitaletti’s first outing as feature director but writer as well. His fingerprints, while not totally definable do feel distinguishable frequently within the film. From the care he takes to browse his lens along the period costumes or the shallow focus splinter sequence with a large knife pulling a small splinter out of a young boys foot. It all builds a cohesive tone, that (and here’s that word again) while generic feels entirely self informed and referential. Not buried spuriously in making omage to greater predecessors but trying rather to make itself defined.
The sound design is perhaps the sorest spot of the picture. Inconsistently dancing between burrowing strings, music box tinkling, and an eerie distant viola. This paired with awkwardly balanced foley work puts the turning of book pages in a chicken coop cleanly above the words being spoken. It’s little mess ups like this in the back-end of the craft and editing that falter most. Which is disappointing, whenever you’re paying attention to the background stuff, that generally means something is off and nothing in the storytelling side can fix it. Only changing the mix levels can. The Last Thing Mary Saw is a dark familiar ride, that has enough originality and solidity to stand up to most skeptical viewers. It may not be all that impactful, but in the low budget independent horror film genre, it’s got more bravura than most it’s compatriots, and that alone is refreshing.
The Last Thing Mary Saw is screening at the Fantasia 2021 Film Festival.