There is something about 19th century America that really gives me the creeps, especially in those North-eastern states like: New Hampshire, Connecticut, and in this films case, rural New York. It is the ideal setting for horror films, there is a vibe associated with this part of the world due to it hosting some dark chapters in American history, but whatever it is, it seems to work. Great horror films of the past such as Robert Wise’s The Haunting, and modern classics like The Witch all hale from this neck of the woods. So, The Last Thing Mary Saw has a lot to live up to, and it does a fine job in perking your intrigue, and putting the shakes up you, even if it takes a while to get there.There is a sure-fire way to exert tension into a horror film; to fill it with anxiety as well as some downright weirdness, and that is by gathering a family of creepy religious fanatics, stick them in an isolated farmhouse, and let them destroy themselves from the inside out – it’s a strong basis for any would be horror film. This film is split into three different chapters that explore the origins of the story and the characters. Stefanie Scott is Mary, a young girl who is under investigation for some unruly crimes against her family, with the timeline then fluttering back and forth, aiming to explore the truth, and examine the motive.
The family in question (although they are more of a cult than a loving family) are led by their ghostly matriarch (Judith Roberts). There are strict religious teachings attached to this family’s ethos, with them often preaching scripture and having coarse rules about desertion which results in punishment – just ask Uncle Eustace. On the surface this might look like your average creepy family horror, but there is also a deep and meaningful love story protruding through. Two star crossed lovers plan to run away from this demanding life, with the two girls in question willing to risk it all for love – there’s something quite poetic about that.
This film is the definition of a slow burner though; trying to create atmosphere over time and leaving out character backgrounds – which you would hope would aid to the films mystery. But it is that pacing that creates the films biggest issue, with it often feeling inconsistent, even slightly rushed in parts. It was laden with unexpected cuts; jumping from scene to scene and taking strange detours that argued against its own slow story. I was left scratching my head a few times in blind confusion. But there are moments that smash through the leisurely pacing and deliver some angsty substance – the splinter scene made me wince a little, I will say that.
But even with the film’s inconsistencies with pacing and story, the key ingredient that moulds it all together – the films shining light as it were – is the film’s score. This eerie and atmospheric piece of music (created by Keegan DeWitt of the band Wild Cub) is hugely effective in elevating this horror to the next level. It is prominent and powerful, but never overpowering to any of the scenes, only assisting it with great elegance and refinement. And that wasn’t the only surprise because the addition of Rory Culkin was a welcome one. His well-articulated but menacing character was evil in demeanour and appearance, it only added to the dark aura of the film.
These slow burning horror films are an acquired taste; they rely on mood setting and patience (which most people do not have), and the disturbing parts really do need to appease those lengthy sombre waits. These moments are few and far between, but when they do appear, they fit the bill perfectly. The Last Thing Mary Saw is an effective little horror though, one led by a piercing atmosphere thanks to its score. And yes, it is slow at times, but the slivers of violence (the classic pieces of horror we all long for) are quite graphic, especially that dramatic climax. You can’t ask for more than that.