It’s 1843 in Southhold, New York. Authorities arrive at a farm house to find a grim scene. There, among it all, is a young girl, Mary (Stefanie Scott) who is blind with blood trickling from her clawed out eyes. She’s brought before the group and asked to share her story. What follows is a grim tale full of dark tidings and unhappiness.
Such is the set up for The Last Thing Mary Saw, a new horror thriller from director Edoardo Vitaletti, which made its debut at the Fantasia Film Festival on Sunday, August 15. The film retains a strong period look at begins in a dark place before spinning back to tell the tale of how Mary got to that point and what caused her to lose her sight.
Mary was part of an uber-religious family which set her at odds with most of them, particularly the family’s Matriarch (Judith Roberts), when she developed a close connection and attraction to the family servant, Emily (Isabelle Fuhrman). At first, the family tries correction and religious education, but it doesn’t stick.
Eventually, the Matriarch uses more extreme methods to teach Emily a lesson and drive a wedge between her and Mary. The girls hatch their own plan, one that gets derailed by a mysterious stranger (Rory Culkin). Soon, Mary comes to realize that there is something much darker at work and there is a price to be paid.
Vitaletti wrote and directed the film, which moves at a decent pace, clocking in just under 90 minutes. He provides a good look and builds the tension throughout the piece. Most of the time the audience is uncertain if there are supernatural forces at work or if this is just the classic tale of the dark side of intolerance. It isn’t until the final act that the truth is revealed and the audience gets a window into the world. The look is solid and the feel keeps the tension high.
The performances are strong, too. Roberts is sufficiently menacing as the power in the family, while Fuhrman does a nice job with some difficult scenes and material, particularly in the sequence opposite Culkin. Scott does a solid job as well in the lead role, seemingly resigned to her fate as she recalls what happened and awaits the natural conclusion.
The film has moments where it works well and will likely appeal to those who are interested in the genre. The story veered in a direction I wasn’t expecting at times and doesn’t build the characters quite enough to have you deeply invested in their fates. I thought the character and sequence that introduced Culkin’s stranger didn’t work, and in fact was one of the most unsettling. You don’t even understand the role he has to play until later, but it still feels a bit out of left field.
Overall, I think the idea and the look was sound. Vitaletti is a solid director but it was his writing that held this tale back from being great or particularly memorable.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.