Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 has had some really great films this year. I was lucky enough to catch Edoardo Vitaletti’s The Last Thing Mary Saw (read our review here) and fell in love with it. I adore stories of forbidden love. To celebrate the film playing the fest, I chatted with the writer/director about the inspiration behind the film, his new appreciation for the horror genre, and why he wanted to be a filmmaker.
PopHorror: I watched The Last Thing Mary Saw yesterday, and I loved it.
Edoardo Vitaletti: Oh, it’s so good to hear that.
PopHorror: Although, you broke my heart at the end. I found it so heartbreaking.
Edoardo Vitaletti: I’m kind of sad, but also kind of happy that it worked.
PopHorror: I really liked it, so I’m excited to speak with you today. Thank you so much!
Edoardo Vitaletti: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s totally my pleasure.
PopHorror: So, what inspired the film?
Edoardo Vitaletti: My entryway into the story was kind of painterly in a way, because I remembered that at the time that I came up with the story and it made its way through the research, I was looking at a lot of 19th century period paintings, especially from Scandinavia. There are a lot of great artists and some repeating visual threads. A couple things that I noticed were the representation of female subjects in 19th century empty houses and rooms, a lot of natural light, and a stark representation of funerals and families attending wakes dressed in black. And those images got me thinking like, “I wonder what that person is thinking about? What’s going through their mind?” Because they are really quiet scenes, some of them darker than others, but they’re really, really quiet.
And so, it got me wondering and thinking about a story in that kind of setting: the house and the funeral side of the story started to come up. That, together with some of my direct or indirect experiences growing up in Italy in a religious community—we’re a very Catholic country—and some of the frustrations and inconsistencies that I noticed with the things that I was taught as a person who grew up religious. How a culture with priests that are being inclusive actually makes exclusivity its defining quality. And so I wanted to expose that, too, with the telling of the story and everything came together that way.
PopHorror: You mentioned it being very quiet, and I did notice there are a lot of scenes with no dialogue. That does make your mind wonder, “What are they thinking? What’s going on?” There is a lot of interaction without actually speaking.
Edoardo Vitaletti: Yeah, it was one of the challenges that I’d given myself and one of my ways of trying to portray the setup of the time period as accurately as possible. This is a story about not really being able to say much, because honesty is not rewarded at all. And so, I think that became a very helpful tool, ultimately. It started off as a challenge, but it became incredibly helpful with the telling of the story.
PopHorror: I spoke with Isabel and Stephanie earlier today [read the PopHorror interview here], and they told me about how they were blown away by the fact that you are so young and just coming out of college, and this being your first feature. I have to say that I couldn’t tell that this is your first feature. I was completely blown away by it. I also read that you just got picked up by Shudder. How does it feel to have your first feature premiere at Fantasia Fest and get picked up by Shudder so quickly?
Edoardo Vitaletti: Fantastically overwhelming, in a nutshell. I started making this film with the right dose of naivety. I was fairly naive about a lot of aspects that eventually caught up with me, and I think that’s a good thing. If I knew so many of the things that were going to get in the way of potentially making this movie when I started—because I was so young when this movie started and because I was partially still in school—that would have been very daunting. To some degree, I think the leap of faith aspect of this helped. It feels amazing. It feels like really being part of a group of movies and people when it comes to Fantasia, and Frightfest that we’re going to be attending at the end of the month, and Shudder. They are the homes of great genre storytelling, and so just being a part of them right off the bat… It’s both an honor and a chance to learn and grow and have a lot of people watch my movie, hopefully. So very, very excited.
PopHorror: I am very excited it’s coming to Shudder, because I had to watch it alone, and I haven’t had anybody to talk to about it. Were you a horror fan before?
Edoardo Vitaletti: Not specifically. I think the horror movies that I personally go after have a strong base in drama. Actually, it’s funny, because before I made this movie and leading up to it, I think horror movies were not something that I typically watched a lot, which is something that kind of helped me. There’s so many great horror movies that have come out in a similar vein as mine, a more slow paced, slow burn type of horror film that doesn’t rely on jump scares as much. Watching many of them, it’s so seductive, and they end up trickling into your script. So, I tried to be very careful about what I was watching and in general, it wasn’t an area of focus for me.
But I did realize, as I was making the movie and especially now, when I think of what I want to watch, there is a beautiful quality—like an escapist quality—to a genre piece, however serious and however seriously it takes itself. I began to definitely like the genre from any point on the spectrum from the slasher to the more serious dramatic horror as I was making this movie. It’s very exciting. I find myself thinking a lot in a good way when I’m watching a horror movie. It’s interesting to me how intelligent a horror movie can be, because it’s breaking you down a little bit, giving you a story. You’re so scared that you’re wide open emotionally. But it’s also very exciting. It’s dark, and it’s obscure. So I definitely became more of a fan of the genre as I was making this movie.
PopHorror: I love that. What I like about horror movies like yours is that they remind us how horrible humans are, and the horrors that people do to each other, and that people can be monsters. That’s one of the scariest things to me… the horror movies that are very realistic. That is what I really loved about it.
Edoardo Vitaletti: That’s very kind, and I think for me, it was always like trying to ground that as much in a real experience. The horror movies that I like are always about something else. It’s not directly what you see on screen. It’s not directly about the screaming or the gore and whatnot.
PopHorror: It takes a lot to hold my attention without the gore, because I’m a big gore fan, so that was very, very good. What made you want to be a filmmaker?
Edoardo Vitaletti: It happened fairly late in my, so far, very short life. I think I was like, 17 or 18 by the time I started to think about, “What do I want to do after high school?” I realized that my mind was always gearing towards that, and I started to watch a lot of movies, a lot of the classics. My education, at a high school level in my high school in Italy, had a lot of Greek and Latin translation classes and a lot of mythology, great tragedies, and great storytelling. So, I think you’re injected with that in a good way. It’s a little hard when you’re in school, because you’re always afraid if you don’t know your shit that well, you’re going to get a bad grade. But when you come out of it, you can retroactively appreciate it.
And for me, towards the end of high school, I realized things about mythology and the movies that I was watching, I think film is a great vehicle to tell something about yourself and to tell the world what you think and learn about people. I also had a desire to leave Italy and to go somewhere else to try a different experience. And arguably, the best place to make movies is still the US, especially on a college level. So, that all came together. I was like, “Okay, maybe I can do film. I can move to New York, and that’ll be fun.”
PopHorror: And what’s up next for you?
Edoardo Vitaletti: I wish I knew. I’m joking. I’m semi-joking, I’ve been working on another story that’s set in a similar space. I don’t think it’s as much of a horror. It’s probably more like a thriller, still very heavily inspired by folklore. Another period piece. Hopefully soon enough I’ll be able to talk more in depth about it, but yeah. You’ll probably see me dealing with similar genre space again, still a dark folk horror.
PopHorror: I’m very eager to see what you have for us! I just have one last question for you today. What is your favorite scary movie?
Edoardo Vitaletti: It’s funny, because they always ask me this question, and every time I’m so unprepared to answer.
PopHorror: That gives you the most honest answers though.
Edoardo Vitaletti: Yes, I know I’m totally unprepared. There are a lot of horror movies that came out over the past five or six years that I’m a huge fan of. I think, as far as my personal favorite, as much as it doesn’t have a great impact on my filmmaking, I’m a huge Dario Argento fan. The original Suspiria and Deep Red are two of my absolute favorite horror movies.
Thank you so much, Edoardo, for speaking with us. The Last Thing Mary Saw is currently on its festival run, and will be invading Shudder in 2022!