Losing My Religion
The Last Thing Mary Saw is an exploration of religion, repression and the supernatural
AFTER MAKING THE rounds to acclaim at film festivals in 2021, first-time theatrical writer/director Edoardo Vitaletti’s The Last Thing Mary Saw debuts this month. The spiritual cinematic cousin to Robert Eggers’s The Witch and Emma Tammi’s The Wind, it’s a period horror piece set in 1843 New York.
It opens with young Mary (Stefanie Scott) blindfolded and bleeding from the eyes as she endures an intense familial interrogation about her actions with the household’s maid, Eleanor (Isabelle Fuhrman). What unspools is a chilling and eerily quiet exploration of religious repression, judgement and the supernatural within a tight-knit family.
An Italian film student who studied at NYU, Vitaletti tells Red Alert that the movie was inspired by his Catholic upbringing and the haunting imagery of 19th century Nordic European art.
Aesthetically, the director says he was studying paintings of period-specific houses that featured female subjects in them. “It got me wondering, ‘What are they thinking about and what’s going on,’ because it felt very weighty and very quiet,” he says. “Nothing was happening, while everything was happening. That’s where the two female characters of the movie came together.”
However, the intense dogma that is foisted upon Mary was born of his own acknowledgement of the hypocrisy of Christianity, and specifically Catholicism, which was sold to him as a culture of inclusivity.
“But when you boil it down, you realise that this mythical creature of God doesn’t love you if you’re born out of wedlock, or if you got divorced, or if you’re not straight,” he assesses. “This movie was a way to voice my frustration, because I think with the cultural aspect of Catholicism, they get away, figuratively speaking, with murder by preaching it as being inclusive and loving. That frustration directly poured into the movie.”
Mary’s experiences are revealed to the audience in flashback, and Vitaletti says silence plays a big part in the performances, which allows the audience to have an intimate engagement with the characters.
“I think you have so much more access to a person, when you’re looking at them in a movie, if they’re not speaking too much,” he explains. “For a lot of the movie no one is saying much, so I was looking for actors who could hold that, and also could enjoy that. And it was challenging, because it takes a while to find the edit when nobody’s saying a thing,” he smiles. “Some things maybe do get lost in that, but I think it’s all for the better when you’re trying to grow as a filmmaker. Leave some things behind, but always aim for that, because I think the film language imposes on us to say things without saying them.”
Vitaletti says it’s a great time to be a genre filmmaker. “We have seen a series of very smart, almost pensive, ponderous, horror movies that seems to be catching on a lot with audiences. And that’s great. But just on a more simple level, those movies show that experiencing fear is something you can put on a spectrum. To make your audience vulnerable, but at the same time make them want to stick with the journey you presented them, that’s something that only genre films can do well.” TB
The Last Thing Mary Saw is on Shudder from 20 January.