Home Horror Entertainment News ‘The Last Thing Mary Saw’ Review: A Poisonous Queer Period Piece

‘The Last Thing Mary Saw’ Review: A Poisonous Queer Period Piece

by Brianna Spieldenner
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The Last Thing Mary Saw

Gay or lesbian period pieces have almost become a trope at this point (looking at you, Ammonite) but how often do they cross into the horror genre? Edoardo Vitaletti’s debut film The Last Thing Mary Saw puts this relationship at the center of the hostile religious environment of 19th century America. 

Flirting with themes of the occult and maintaining a tense tone throughout, this film fits with other bleak, modern folk films like The Witch, The Nightingale, and Midsommar. The unapologetic relationship between the two leading women and the intense story stands out, but the film is also bogged down by a slow pace and a somewhat convoluted plot. 

The Last Thing Mary Saw Isabelle Fuhrman

Stefanie Scott and Isabelle Fuhrman in “The Last Thing Mary Saw” – Photo Credit: Shudder

The Last Thing Mary Saw begins with Mary, interrogated while blindfolded and bleeding from the eyes about her grandmother’s death and what happened during her funeral. She recounts the events leading up to that moment, of being romantically involved with the housemaid, Eleanor, and her family’s disgust and punishment of the couple. The family bickers and plots about the couple, at the same time they plan their own escape as an intruder invades their home. 

The Last Thing Mary Saw stars Stefanie Scott (Insidious: Chapter 3, Beautiful Boy) and Isabelle Fuhrman (Orphan, The Hunger Games, The Novice) as the forbidden lovers in Victorian America, and Rory Culkin (Lords of Chaos, Scream 4) as an unhinged intruder in their household. 

The three leads expertly convey the frustration of being in their circumstances, with Fuhrman standing out for acting almost wordlessly and Culkin bringing a nuanced, chaotic energy to the film. 

Rory Culkin The Last Thing Mary Saw

Rory Culkin in “The Last Thing Mary Saw” – Photo Credit: Shudder

While the slow-burn in this film was a bit too slow, the progression of the film is still enjoyable and the ending is a bloody, crazy affair. 

The relationship at the center is framed in a pretty unique way: you don’t see how the girls fell in love or any apprehension they may have, but instead only tender affection on both sides. The religious aspects of this could definitely be controversial, but work with the film’s themes and reality of the setting. 

The girls take pleasure in reading a storybook to each other, but by the film’s end, this book turns on them. The book also serves as chapter markers for the film itself, seemingly following cautionary folklore, like the Bible. 

In general, the film has an extremely caustic view of Christianity, as it was portrayed as completely unforgiving, dangerous and useless. Often it framed the religious movement, especially at this point in history, as a tool to ostracize people who did not fit into the norm, especially women and queer people. This could have very easily been a witch film, but I feel it is telling that it never makes the queer characters out to be witches. Instead of making the women into monstrous archetypes of witches which would further alienate them, the film chooses instead to show how “witches” really were at that time period: regular women who dared defy some aspect of Christianity, or were simply accused out of lust or bitterness.

In The Last Thing Mary Saw, Christianity is used as a tool for punishment to uphold heteronormative patriarchy. 

The Last Thing Mary Saw

Stefanie Scott and Isabelle Fuhrman in “The Last Thing Mary Saw” – Photo Credit: Shudder

While this movie throws in a lot of tantalizing and shocking elements, it struggles to pull them together in a fully realized way. Like many other folky horror movies, it saves most of the action for the end, which some people may not see as a problem. At the same time, some of the action in this film seems thrown out of left field and it was a struggle to sometimes grasp what was happening at specific moments with the plot. 

Framing the film in flashback was also an organization choice that didn’t feel necessary, although I can understand why it was chosen. When it came to the final moments of the film, it felt like it softened the impact of the last third of the film. 

Another minor problem with the film is the lackluster editing, especially the music and sound design which seemed to be afterthoughts in the production process. There were moments where I was thinking, the music should be rising here, or this shot should have been cut a few seconds ago. 

The Last Thing Mary Saw

Photo Credit: Shudder

On the other hand, the cinematography here was very good, but also kind of locked into a familiar folk horror look: bleak landscapes, minimalist houses, browns and grey washes. As far as having a film take almost entirely inside a house, the camera work was very good and was reminiscent of still life early 19th century paintings, which the director actually cited as an inspiration. The painting influence on the film definitely shows and works well here to make a quite beautiful film.

Those that are into the recent resurgence of slow-burn, folk horror movies will definitely find a lot to like in this queer period piece. Compelling performances by Fuhrman and Culkin captivate the screen along with the strange progression of events and sinister and surprising ending. Those who are not fans of that specific sub-genre will probably not find much to enjoy here, as it very much falls in the familiar trappings of other modern folk horror, such as a slow pace. 

The Last Thing Mary Saw premieres on Shudder Jan. 20. Check the trailer out below.