“The Last Thing Mary Saw,” as a name, might lead viewers to believe that the titular character has seen some unspeakable horror just before her death. In fact — and this is no spoiler — she has seen such terrors just before having her eyes gouged out. Such is the beguiling, nasty nature of this first feature from the writer-director Edoardo Vitaletti, set at a Calvinist household in 1843.
Mary (Stefanie Scott) is the black sheep of her strict, upper-class family. She has fallen in love with their maid, Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman), and seems barely interested in hiding it. As Mary’s parents turn to the family’s eerie matriarch (Judith Roberts) for guidance, Mary and Isabelle plan their escape with the help of the downtrodden family guard, Theodore (P.J. Sosko). This main narrative is apparently a retelling, introduced during an interrogation between Mary — now blindfolded, with blood dripping from her eye sockets — and the town constable.
Though this is a slow, at times plodding film, it holds more intricacies than that plot summary alone can convey. Each member of Mary’s family has a distinct role in her persecution, and she and Eleanor try to evade them several times before a grisly climax. As a result, “The Last Thing Mary Saw” is as surprising as it is frustrating. Art house horror fans may delight in its supernatural twists and pitch-dark ending, but these mechanisms only serve to muddy the story. In act two, a funeral goes awry and an anonymous villain (Rory Culkin) wreaks havoc, but it is completely unclear how or why any of these agitating events ensue. At best, the film may offer a criticism of a vengeful Christian god — at worst, it paints its lesbian protagonist as a contemptible sinner who was always destined for punishment.
The Last Thing Mary Saw
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes. Watch on Shudder.