This period chiller builds an atmosphere, but struggles to make an impact with attempts to startle.
Synopsis: Winter, 1843. A young woman is under investigation following the mysterious death of her family’s matriarch. Her recollection of the events sheds new light on the ageless forces behind the tragedy.
Following the now reasonably well-worn formula of a period piece, split into chapters, the format of The Last Thing Mary Saw feels familiar, although it does set out to do something different. It handles the tone well, managing to create a stifling environment and its play with chronology assists in presenting this oppressive, claustrophobic cycle within the house.
With the LGBTQ+ horror community going from strength to strength with interesting, unique and decidedly queer takes on stories maybe it is no surprise that a film about religious fervour and ‘correction’ hasn’t quite landed with me. Stefanie Scott’s performance as the titular Mary is good, as is Isabelle Fuhrman’s as her lover, Eleanor, but aside from their relationship to one another the film never allows them much development. The basis of their characters is in this doomed love story, with little else about them explored. This is perhaps understandable given the time period that the film covers is relatively short, but this still means there is a lack of connection to them, outside of natural empathy for the punishment they endure and their tragic situation.
There is a dedication to the period setting in the form of the delivery of dialogue. Unfortunately, for me this meant frequently losing some dialogue as everything feels pitched at a level just above a whisper. While that undoubtedly suits the subject matter, it does make it an occasionally frustrating watch. A caveat, of course, that this could be the result of the device I’m watching on, although some levels were absolutely fine in this, so I’m not able to say for certain.
Moments where the creepier, otherworldly imagery moves centre stage end up feeling muted, due to the film’s overwhelming sobriety. This fits the community it covers, considering their repression and fear, but the film never quite gets the injection of energy it needs in these moments. There is a slow, steady scare factor that works on smaller details, but it never feels appropriately jolting, resulting in a film that never quite moves up the gears effectively enough. As a result, this doesn’t feel like a slow-burn, but an even, deliberate unfolding of events.
The Last Thing Mary Saw will appeal to those who enjoy period horror and the quieter sense of the uncanny. The blend of horror and historical pain is so potent that I can’t help feeling I wish it had more to say.
2.5 out of 5 stars
The Last Thing Mary Saw will have its UK Premiere at FrightFest 2021 on 28th August. Tickets can be bought here
The Last Thing Mary Saw played as part of Fantasia 2021 on 15th August with a second screening on 17th August.