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  Last Thing Mary Saw, The Thou Shalt Not
Year: 2021
Director: Edoardo Vitaletti
Stars: Stefanie Scott, Isabelle Fuhrman, Rory Culkin, Carolyn McCormick, Michael Laurence, Judith Roberts, Shane Coffey, Philip Hoffman, Dawn McGee, Sebastian Beacon, P.J. Sosko, Tommy Buck, Daniel Pearce, Elijah Rayman, Stephen Lee Anderson, Matthew Stannah
Genre: Horror, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Mary (Stefanie Scott) doesn't see much of anything now, because she has been imprisoned by the authorities and blindfolded, though the blood on her face suggests she would not see very much even without the bandage. The year is 1843, and in this town in New York State, the rule of law is a puritanical one, with everyone subject to the tenets as interpreted from the Bible; this proved a hindrance to Mary's increasingly close friendship with the maid of her household, Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman), and as they began to conspire, the locals noticed and wondered if they were going too far. The subject of witchcraft was bound to arise where the schemes of women were suspected, and so Mary and Eleanor grew trapped...

Bordering the genre of folk horror was this austere horror drama with a historical setting, though there was not a whole lot taking place in the woods as the locations veered closer to a claustrophobic series of interiors to offer the sense of events closing in on the two heroines. Writer and director Edoardo Vitaletti was making his first feature here, and appeared to have been taking notes from the similar - but not identical - The Witch, which had sparked a renewed interest in reserved yet uncanny chillers, often within an isolated community. This was all relayed in an atmosphere that gave the impression the cast were almost afraid to speak their lines for fear of breaking the spell Vitaletti was so careful to spin across an often candelit collection of darkened rooms.

Now, as you might have anticipated for a film made in the twenty-twenties detailing a close female friendship, the influence of Peter Jackson's cult classic Heavenly Creatures was in the background, though going further and stating outright that Mary and Eleanor had commenced a lesbian relationship. We see this in rather coyly shot kissing scenes - again, anything more explicit would have overbalanced the reserved tone - but this did risk turning the movie into one of those countless "lesbians punished for falling in love" tales that had proliferated since the likes of The Children's Hour back in the sixties and had been extremely difficult to reform from that basic template. We already know the affair has not ended well, as we have watched Mary in practically the very first scene with her eyes lost and held at gunpoint by the committee to recite The Lord's Prayer.

This recital is proof of whether the Devil is present in Mary, as if she could not manage the whole thing she would have been executed on the spot (though she doesn't say "Amen", oddly). But elements of the plot indicate she may have some supernatural powers, not to say too much, but the elderly matriarch of the family (Judith Roberts from Eraserhead) could be pulling some strings which get the girls into deep trouble, intentionally or otherwise. Again, there was a problem there as with many fictions dealing with witch trials as they preferred to empower the victims by giving them actual paranormal powers, which had the unwanted side effect of fully justifying the victimisation from the puritans: the bad guys had been right all along, essentially. This kind of undercut that by shading everyone here with a moral ambiguity so we were unsure of whose motives to support, and Rory Culkin was skulkin' around in the background to complicate those matters even further. If you were not wholly convinced these were authentic nineteenth century citizens - it felt a little "off" - and the pace was punishingly slow, that sinister mood was what kept you watching. Music by Keegan DeWitt.

[Shudder Original Film Premieres Exclusively on Thursday, 20th January 2022.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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