I love reviewing films and TV series for Biff Bam Pop! because I get to see films before they are out in theaters or on streaming services. What is especially rewarding is getting the chance to review a great film such as Edoardo Vitaletti’s The Last Thing Mary Saw.
Plot with spoilers
The Last Thing Mary Saw is a period horror film that takes place in Southold, New York in 1843. Directed and written by Edoardo Vitaletti, and starring Stefanie Scott, Isabelle Fuhrman, Rory Culkin, and Judith Roberts, this film takes us back to a time when everything is viewed as a sin. The film begins with a trial. The constable and his men are interrogating an injured teenage girl. She is the only survivor of a family massacre. The constable and his men fear this helpless, blinded girl. They aim their guns at her until she recites the Our Father prayer. What is this girl being accused of?
To find out Mary’s (Stefanie Scott) crime, we go back a few days via flashbacks, which are offered up through three dark and disturbing vignettes. Mary lives in a religiously rigid family. Her father (Michael Lawrence) and mother (Caroline McCormack) are upset with Mary’s infatuation with the indentured house maid, Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman). They do their best to keep the girls separated, but teenagers, especially those in love, will find ways to be together. This forces the parents to call in the heavy guns: The Matriarch. Judith Roberts is wickedly frightening as Mary’s grandmother. When the severe physical punishments, which includes the girls kneeling on dry rice for hours while reciting prayers, fail to break up the love affair between Mary and Eleanor…the grandmother forces the family to resort to stricter punishments. The only person in the family who feels guilty over the treatment of the girls is Mary’s father. It was, after all, his fault that a questionable book was found in Mary’s possession.
The girls seek the help of the family guard, Theodore (P.J. Sosko), an indentured servant who had been maimed by the grandfather (Stephen Lee Anderson) when he tried to escape. With everyone in the family spying on them, both Mary and Eleanor must be wary of discovery. They are not safe from prying eyes, not even from Mary’s little brother Matthew (Elijah Rayman) who innocently rats them out after they find solitude in the hen house. Both Mary and Eleanor are strong willed young ladies, with each taking turns protecting each other, but their little secret rendezvous turns malicious after the grandmother finds them in the hen house reading from a book of short stories. One of the stories, which is called The Old Lady of Bathebara, is actually a biblical tale about two ancient women finding love in each other’s arms only to be discovered by an old woman. When Mary’s grandmother, who we suspect of being a witch, injures Eleanor, causing her to become mute…Mary takes her revenge. There are questions and suspicions as to how the grandmother dies, but the family decides to hold the funeral.
Conclusion with Spoilers
The plot, which moves slowly in order to give us a chance to soak up the atmospheric horror of that time period, picks up speed after a stranger arrives at the house. Rory Culkin plays the intruder who arrives as Eleanor is baking bread for the funeral. He tells Eleanor that his mother feared he was possessed by the devil because of his birthmark, which covers most of his face. He has a solution to save the girls, but it comes with a price.
Revenge is best served in a cup, and as we reach the last vignette, we learn that some things don’t stay dead, and that innocence is never permitted to explore outside of what rigid religion deems acceptable. The Last Thing Mary Saw might not be the type of horror story you normally watch…but the plot, the acting, and the scenery holds you glued to your seat.
The frightening finale of the film hits us like a sledgehammer because it is unexpected. I found myself watching it a second time. It is that good. Stefanie Scott and Isabelle Fuhrman fabulously hold their own in the film, as does the wickedly talented Judith Roberts, but it is within that short period of time that Rory Culkin is on screen…that horror comes home to roost.
The Last Thing Mary Saw, a Shudder Original Film, is now streaming on Shudder.