Religious-themed horror films have experienced a renaissance in recent years, representing some of the best films that the genre has produced in decades such as The Witch and Midsommar.
Writer and director Edoardo Vitaletti’s debut film, The Last Thing Mary Saw, belongs in this list, and due to Shudder’s just announced acquisition of it, viewers will now get the chance to experience the harrowing film for themselves in 2022.
Before it hits the streaming service, Mary premieres at the Fantasia International Film Festival on August 15 and 17 and later, at London’s Frightfest on August 28, and we got a chance to speak to the first time director about his much-discussed and sought after film in this exclusive interview.
What were the origins of The Last Thing Mary Saw?
Edoardo Vitaletti: My entry way into the story was actually through Scandinavian paintings and artwork. The main through line were paintings of funeral scenes and images of very austere homes. I was also interested in telling a story in that time period (1843 in rural New York) and once I had the main characters down, it emotionally stuck with me and I brought my own experiences of growing up in Italy with a Catholic upbringing and the antagonistic presence in the story comes from that as well, the evil side of it,
Did you have to do a lot of research on the time period and location to prepare for the film?
Vitaletti: Yes, a lot, and it was a lot of fun too! I looked at the costumes, accents, architecture, and also read a lot of literature and folklore from the time period. In that geographic area at the time, many people were experiencing a new type of religious fervor and I ended up working that into the story as well.
In terms of the folklore in the film, did it come from your research or did you invent things like the book that the girls find?
Vitaletti: Most of it I made up, in terms of the stories in the book. A lot of it was inspired by those apocryphal sources from Catholicism. Most of the time, we associate rituals with paganism, but there is a rich tradition of unofficial and unaccepted stories from major religions as well. Those stories inspired some of the iconography in the film.
I also was inspired by classic mythology, since blinding, especially in the Greek stories is a common motif.
You were lucky enough to assemble an excellent ensemble cast for your first film. Thoughts on working with them?
Vitaletti: I was truly blessed with an amazing cast and I quickly built personal relationships with them. They were all so positive and and they are all phenomenal performers. Being my first film, all of them were very generous and provided a lot of insight into their characters in terms of small details such as posture and costuming choices. When you are writing, you never know how your characters will appear on screen, but they captured the weird darkness that I was going for.
The idea of classism is very prevalent in the film. Do you think that this goes hand-in-hand with the idea of religious oppression?
Vitaletti: That subject fascinated me a lot. The characters who are supposedly put in the margins in the film such as the housemaid and the guard are smart, cunning, resourceful, intelligent. They handle many of the most skilled jobs in the home and those in positions of power don’t bother to look down, which creates major problems for them in the end.
The tension that you create in the film, particularly in the post-funeral dinner scene, is truly palpable. How did you go about creating that type of slow-urn intensity in your film?
Vitaletti: That was my challenge. It was virtually silent in that scene so I thought “How do you convey the tension when no one is allowed to speak?” The silence actually becomes the most helpful weapon in that scene, and it ends up telling the story. We spent a lot of time coordinating the scene in terms of sound design. The sound of a cup moving, a chair creaking; it took a lot of choreography, especially in a scene when no one can really move. And when the sound does eventually come into the scene, it makes a big impact. It was one of my favorite in the film.
I understand why, and when people see it, I imagine that they will have the same reaction I did to the scene, which was to almost climb the walls.
Do you have any future projects that you are working on?
Vitaletti: Yes, we are cooking up another project in the same genre space as The Last Thing Mary Saw. I am looking forward to people getting to see my The Last Thing Mary Saw and I am so grateful that the hybrid model that Fantasia is using this year allows people to see it. I am looking forward to people seeing it in theaters, in that environment, because I made it with that space in mind.
For Canadian audiences, Mary premieres at the Fantasia International Film Festival on August 15 and 17. London’s Frightfest will screen The Last Thing Mary Saw on August 28 at the Cineworld Leicester Square in the heart of London.
Stay tuned to Conskipper for further information about The Last Thing Mary Saw’s Shudder debut and additional screenings as well.