Fantasia Film Festival 2021 Review: The Last Thing Mary Saw

Written by Taylor Baker

60/100

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.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021 

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.

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Review: The Novice

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

75/100 

The Novice tells the story of queer freshman physics major Alex Dall (Isabelle Fuhrman) who gets into crew (competitive rowing)with the goal to make the varsity team. What we observe during the film’s runtime is a magnification of Dall’s obsessions and compulsions as she tries to make her way to the first boat. During the film’s progression we view subtle hints about why Alex is trying to exert control on her external environment.

Intertwined with her attempts to row crew and make the team, we gain insight into how she navigates relationships with various individuals and the crew team. As well as the romantic relationship she develops with one of her Teacher’s Assistants. The Novice does not spell itself out for the audience and, at times, is a bit convoluted. However, the last 45 minutes really pick up the pace as we start to unpeel the layers and see what really makes Alex tick. 

This reminded me of Whiplash(2014) but with a boat rather than a drum set. It’s an impressive debut from writer and director Lauren Hadaway and a star-making performance for Isabelle Fuhrman. Although the script could use a little tightening this was a strong first effort. The physicality Fuhrman was able to embody not only compelled me but kept me engrossed. There were brilliant shots on the water combined with the score that had me almost breathless. Right now, I can see this being one of my contenders for the best film of the festival. Don’t miss it.

Recommended

The Novice is currently streaming as part of the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival thru Tribeca at Home(available only in the USA). Further Distribution TBD.

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