Expertly blending folklore and the supernatural, Italian writer/director Edoardo Vitaletti’s debut feature film, The Last Thing Mary Saw, premiered at Fantasia Film Festival in 2021. The film stars Stefanie Scott (Insidious: Chapter 3) as Mary, a young woman in 1843, who falls deeply in love with her maid, Eleanor, played by Isabelle Fuhrman (Orphan). Mary’s family is extremely religious and considers her relationship with Eleanor to be a sin. The matriarch of the family, played sinisterly by Judith Anna Roberts (Dead Silence), appears to hold some sort of otherworldly power over the family. Mary and Eleanor are forced to endure torturous rituals of punishment as the entire family watches. After a strange intruder, played by Rory Culkin (Scream 4), comes to the home, Eleanor and Mary devise a plan to escape her family so they can be together.
With candlelit scenes and a mesmerizing visual style, The Last Thing Mary Saw is a beautiful, haunting, but ultimately tragic love story. Daily Dead had the pleasure of speaking with writer/director Edoardo Vitaletti about his inspiration for his directorial debut and Mary’s story, working with Stefani Scott, Isabelle Furhman, Judith Roberts, Rory Culkin, and a lot more. You can read our interview with Edoardo Vitaletti below!
The Last Thing Mary Saw premiered on AMC’s premium streaming network, Shudder, on January 20th.
I saw The Last Thing Mary Saw at Fantasia last year and really loved it. This is your debut feature film and I wanted to know if you had a specific inspiration for this story?
Edoardo Vitaletti: I started to write it about three or four years ago, and at the time I was still in college, and I was taking a lot of art history classes and I was focusing on a lot of 19th century, Northern European art. I noticed there were a lot of visuals that really interested me, a lot of funeral scenes and stark houses. There’s a great Danish painter, who did a lot of portraits of female subjects, alone in houses and they are very quiet and somber, and very evocative to me personally. So, I became interested in making a movie that had that feeling and that could convey that sense of almost like somber, but quiet darkness. Part of it was that and part of it was me personally. I grew up in Italy and I grew up in a fairly homogenous country when it comes to a lot of things really, but especially when it comes to religious preferences.
I had a Christian and Catholic upbringing, so I sort of wanted to expose a lot of things that looking back at the way that I was taught, I wanted to bring up some of the frustrations that I felt against this culture that proclaims itself as inclusive, but then it tends to exclude a lot of folks. It tends to be accepting so long as you fit in a specific box of being a certain type of person and looking a certain way. So, I wanted to expose that and the kind of fragility that my opinion hides behind. There are people who try to enforce their beliefs by means of violence, which hides a lot of insecurity on the part of the enforcer. So, a mix of the two things together helped me come up with the story.
This film tells the story of a woman who is persecuted by her religious family for being in love with another woman and effectively uses elements of folklore and the supernatural. It’s a period piece, but it’s very relevant today. What are your thoughts on the relevance of Mary’s story to what’s going on in the world today?
Edoardo Vitaletti: It’s something that comes across as a degree of sadness because I think trying to portray a certain time in history that was over a hundred years ago and realizing there are people who still behave the way the family in the movie does is pretty sad. I’m glad that it can speak to people’s experiences nowadays. I’m happy if this movie is able to engage in a conversation with people who feel like the belief system they are surrounded by is being enforced in the same way as this awful family does. I was asked if I think religion is progressing, and to your question, I just think that I don’t know that there is a full admission of what the nature of enforcing religion truly is, especially in the country where I’m from. When I look back at it, people still relegate folks who are in a same sex relationship to a fear of otherness, even when there is kind of a baseline level of acceptance, and I think that’s just not enough. So, I do think that it can speak to the present, hopefully, in a way that resonates with people.
It definitely did for me. I think it’s a really scary film, but it’s also a really emotional film. I think, as you said, it’s sad and it’s dark, but I also think that the way you told the story of Mary and Eleanor’s relationship was kind of beautiful in a way as well.
Edoardo Vitaletti: Yeah, part of it was about finding the beauty in a strange, dark, and awful environment and world.
This film has a great cast and there are some incredibly creepy scenes with Judith Roberts, who plays Mary’s grandmother. What was it like working on this film with Judith, Stefanie Scott, Isabelle Furhman, and Rory Culkin?
Edoardo Vitaletti: I was blessed with a fantastic cast of great, great actors and honestly, just great people all around. I started to work with Stefanie first, she was the first person to get involved with the project being Mary. She was very curious and intrigued by this weird script and the period piece aspect of it. She was intrigued by it and then Isabelle came in and what was nice about their collaboration is that they have known each other for a number of years prior to the film. They had done one film together, they’re close to the same age, and they both lived in Los Angeles at that time. So, they had this kind of built-in level of chemistry that I was very, very happy to welcome into the movie. These are two characters who only have each other in the story and for me to be able to work with two actors who already knew each other was kind of an added bonus and it made my work very easy.
Rory came in for only a couple of days. His arrival onto the set sort of mirrors a little bit how he enters into the movie. He only shot with us for two days and he kind of brought this new, twisted energy [laughs] on set that was very unsettling, but at the same time, very cool to work with. He’s one of the few characters who is very chatty, and he speaks a lot in the movie. He was just great. They are all actors who make just great, fantastic choices when the camera is rolling and certain actors you just have to point the camera and say nothing. Judith Roberts is great. She is the sweetest, most wonderful, lovable person, which I always find very interesting because when she’s on screen she’s creepy as heck [laughs]. She’s got this presence and this sort of aura where she really kind of steals the shot. She has a very long history with like New York theater, and a lot of our actors were from New York, so they all kind of looked up to her. Once again, it turns in pretty handy when you have this familial system where everyone is looking up to this matriarch. So, I was just plain lucky.
Can you talk a little bit about the funeral scene? It’s my favorite scene, if I had to pick one scene. It’s just so creepy, the way it’s shot and everything about it.
Edoardo Vitaletti: Yeah, it was one of those things like you don’t really know how it’s turning out when you’re shooting it because those were the days where every single cast member was on set [laughs] at the same time. So, you’re doing a lot of shots and they’re all very quick and kind of fragmented. You’re shooting, and, in your mind, you don’t know how it’s turning out. I was very pleased with the way it turned out. It’s a lot of blocking and it’s a lot of kind of remembering lines that are not spoken because of all the looks and the movement. There’s always something that every character has to say without saying it and that kind of trickles into the supper scene too. It was very challenging, but I think the challenge of how quiet that scene is and how it builds, I think we kind of all took it as something to play with. Within the limitations we discovered a lot of things, but those were definitely long days [laughs] and very, very fragmented. You’re on a person’s face for two seconds and then we cut to another face for a half a second and you can get a little frustrated. It required a lot of blocking. It’s more like choreographing a very somber, quiet dance than directing a movie scene.
I really appreciate your visual style as well. The way the movie is shot is riveting.
Edoardo Vitaletti: Thank you! Thank you so much!
I’ve already seen a lot of people comparing The Last Thing Mary Saw to The Witch. How do you feel about people already making that comparison?
Edoardo Vitaletti: [laughs] I think it’s an extraordinary film and one can only feel flattered by the comparison. I feel extremely flattered. I think that movie did something for the genre that genre filmmakers were all sort of benefiting from, like collectively, because it is one of those movies that further opened up the doors to a certain style of genre of filmmaking that doesn’t only have to rely on one thing. There’s a lot of, “Oh, horror has to be this, or horror has to be that.” And the greatness of horror is that there are so many subgenres and thirty different kinds of movies you can make that are still horror. It’s one of those movies that I’m really grateful that exists and I’m very flattered by the comparison. I think my movie and his movie try to do two separate things, but it’s incredibly flattering for sure.
It really is. I just happen to prefer your movie [laughs], but The Witch did kind of open the door for more folk horror over the past few years.
Edoardo Vitaletti: [laughs] I’m even more flattered by that! To be fair, there have always been movies that try to go for the thoughtful over the jump scares, which doesn’t make them better, it just makes them a particular subgenre, before The Witch. But I think that there’s always that one movie that comes about and puts something that’s already in existence more on the map and I think that movie did that.
Congratulations on the movie premiering at Fantasia last year and congratulations for it premiering on Shudder now! I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today!
Edoardo Vitaletti: Of course! I’m very grateful that we got a chance to speak. Thank you so much!