FrightFest 2021: Religion, Hypocrisy, and The Last Thing Mary Saw

Isabelle Fuhrman is making herself known in 2021. The titular star of 2009’s Orphan has already won Best Actress (U.S. Narrative) at the Tribeca Film Festival this year for her performance in The Novice and is also likely going to garner more awards attention during its December release. Having been captivated by that performance, when The Last Thing Mary Saw arrived for review, I was excited to see the young actress’s latest endeavor. This time, Fuhrman plays a supporting role to Insidious: Chapter 3’s Stefanie Scott, and the two find themselves under a microscope of religious persecution as lovers in Southold, New York, during the year 1843. 

The film opens rather darkly as we see the titular Mary (Scott) opening a book by candlelight to a story titled The Old Lady of Bethabara. The title card comes up. The next time we see Mary, she’s wearing a strip of cloth over her eyes, and blood is tearing down her cheek. Something obviously horrible has happened. A group of men called to the house argue over whether or not they should listen to the young girl’s story, some concluding that Mary does not deserve a trial given the grisly scene they’ve encountered. Mary could be the devil incarnate as far as they are concerned. The viewer isn’t privy to the events that led to this scene, or what the story in the book concerns. Of course, that is for the unfolding narrative us to tell. Though, the dark, dreadful, vigil-like atmosphere has us all very intrigued to discover: what was The Last Thing Mary Saw? 

Mary stares into the camera with a blindfold on while a bloody tear rolls down her right cheek.

I’m not always a big fan when films jostle a timeline back and forth, though I think in The Last Thing Mary Saw’s case, it’s done rather artfully with the induction of investigation. It’s a whole lot better than having another title card say “seven days earlier” that requires me to remember the pieces of the story I already know and where they may come into play in the five minutes of film that have passed. But I digress. I’m also not the biggest fan of period drama/horror either. To put it bluntly, and I’m sure I’ll get some hate for this, The Witch was a bit of a chore to me. I liked how it ended, and from the technical side of things, there are some fantastic achievements, but finishing the film took me a few naps and a couple of restarts. In essence, The Last Thing Mary Saw was playing uphill to this reviewer.  

While the film’s young love attempts to blossom through a most difficult time period, the movie’s matriarch (Dead Silence’s Judith Roberts) provides a heavy hand for torture and intolerance in stopping Mary and Eleanor’s (Fuhrman) affection for one another, focused specifically on the sin of their unnatural desire. The tyranny of the era is further presented in the story of a guard (P.J. Sosko) caught escaping and violently reckoned with never being able to do so again. That punishment isn’t doled out specifically by the matriarch but the generational, traditionalist, and religion-based concepts that have been instilled in those around her. We never learn what the guard did, but given his empathy, it’s likely he may not be so different from our main characters. Despite the hardships faced by Mary and Eleanor, they only try harder to overcome them. Soliciting the guard to look the other way, Eleanor trades food for privacy with Mary in the chicken coop. Together they hatch a plan to poison the matriarch, leaving one less person to stop them from being together.  

Questioning positions of power, religious taboos, and defiantly standing up for what it believes is right, The Last Thing Mary Saw is difficult to deny. The star-crossed characters’ dark cloud hanging above them intensifies throughout the film, granting clemency to their conspiratorial aspirations of murder because it feels justified, given their alternatives in a lifetime of male-dominated servitude or painful disciplinary action. The entrance of The Intruder (Scream 4’s Rory Culkin) paints a perspicuous picture of where the film is going. However, it suggests a morality lesson of paying the high price in consequences for actions, though, given the severity of abuse Eleanor suffers in his presence, and it commits its characters to a brutal reality that not everyone suffers equally. 

The two girls kneel before the matriarch and the rest of the household.

Despite my earlier admission of not typically enjoying these types of films, The Last Thing Mary Saw is entertaining and effective. It does borrow those ominous feelings of despair and containment from The Witch rather nicely as well as some of the final scenes that presented the trapped, claustrophobic feeling of The Others. The film’s story unfolds with great pacing, leaving the audience curious about what happens next. As the film moves into a brilliantly crafted climactic sequence of horror by sound design, where not a single word is uttered, you find admiration for the nuanced use of silence from the characters who have outspokenly caused harm over voices that now refuse to stay silent. It’s insanely powerful. 

Shifting in its finale with a Hereditary style supernatural twist, The Last Thing Mary Saw creates some questions in the process. You will find yourself going back and forth with the film’s thematic principles, and finding the final twist feels more extra than necessary. Still, it creates a monster worthy of discussion in its wake, one based in deep-seated hatred. You may find yourself asking questions like, if “God is Love,” then why does the church openly admonish and disapprove of divorce or homosexuality? This philosophical tie-in is well proposed throughout the movie, though the ending seems clouded given the events. Perhaps it proposes that we cannot fight hate with hate. 

Though the ending is a little hard to navigate, I found The Last Thing Mary Saw to be a well-executed debut feature for Edorado Vitaletti who achieves profound character development through philosophy and hypocrisy of the time period with such ease that it’s hard to believe this is his first feature-length film. The cast performances are outstanding, as well. The chemistry between the ensemble creates an unrivaled atmosphere for the film that is further elevated by the film’s score and sound design team.  

The Last Thing Mary Saw will see its European Premiere at Arrow Video FrightFest 2021 on August 28 before heading to Shudder in early 2022.  

One Comment

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  1. Thank you for the thoughtful review! I am watching the movie now. Any time I get to see the woman from Dead Silence and Orange is the New Black, I am there. When she showed up in Nos4atu, I was elated. She owns all of herself.

    Personally, I thought The VVitch was an incredible movie, incidentally. I hope you consider watching The Cursed next month, as it looks like it is going to a period piece worth the time. It feels like it is going to be wonderfully dreadful and terrifying.


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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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