Genre : Horror
Rating : R
Director: Clive Tonge
Few things sound as terrifying as sleep paralysis. Perhaps best-known today thanks to Rodney Ascher’s documentary The Nightmare it is when someone find themselves in the state between being awake and asleep. You’re awake but you can’t speak, move or react to anything around you. Even more terrifying, people who have experienced sleep paralysis have been known to experience hallucinations. The most common of which being intruders and feeling like someone, or something, is lying on your chest. Thankfully sleep paralysis typically only lasts less than a couple of minutes. But what if it didn’t? What if those creatures you thought you saw were real? That’s what we’re asked with the latest from Saban Films, Mara.
It’s a quiet night in Savannah, Georgia when tragedy suddenly strikes. Awoken by screams from her parent’s room young Sophie Wynsfield is terrified to discover her father, Matthew, brutally mangled. Sitting next to him is her traumatized mother, Helena. Assigned to the case is psychologist Kate Fuller (Olga Kurylenko) who thinks Helena murdered her husband when she blames a sleep demon named Mara. While Helena is committed Kate begins to second guess her decision when she begins to suffer from sleep paralysis herself and sees a monstrous figure from the corner for her eye.
Now this isn’t the first horror movie to mine the world of sleep disorders for terror. Recent movies like Dead Awake and Slumber dealt with sleep paralysis specifically while The Babadook and Nightmare Man have dealt with monsters that strike while you sleep. Not to mention the classic A Nightmare on Elm Street which dealt with both terrifying scenarios. Needless to say, there is a lot of competition in this particular subgenre. Thankfully Mara has a talented crew behind the scenes to help it stick out from the rest.
In his directorial debut Clive Tonge and writer Jonathan Frank are able to cleverly mix crime drama and the supernatural. And while there are elements similar to its peers (a clever mention of the case that inspired the Elm Street franchise comes to mind) it sticks out from the pack thanks to some really good character building. Due to its small core cast each character gets the chance to grow over the film’s brisk 99 minutes. Each of them feeling like fully formed characters with the most growth going to Kate Fuller, as portrayed by Olga Kurylenko.
Typically known as the femme fatale in movies such as Quantum of Solace and Hitman, Kurylenko gets to shows her more of her range as an actress as our horror heroine. Instead of the bad girl vibe she gives off in her other movies, Kurylenko is able to bring a vulnerability to the role we have never really seen from her before. At the same time as Dr. Fuller starts looking into Matthew’s past we watch as she slowly starts to lose her mind, a lack of sleep and paranoia taking its toll on her. Olga and the film’s makeup crew do a stellar job making it a gradual transformation.
The other standout performance comes from horror staple Javier Botet (REC, The Conjuring 2). Playing the demon Mara, the Spanish actor brings the kind of committed performance he is known for. His uniquely lanky body making normal tasks like standing and walking chilling with each movement. Unfortunately, Mara’s look isn’t up to par. Because while the glimpses we get of the costume look great, Mara’s design feels terribly generic. It is as if whoever designed Mara copy and pasted a generic evil hag and called it a day. Even worse, this kind of predictability that can be seen throughout the rest of the movie.
As mentioned earlier, Mara is fairly well written. Particularly for a smaller release like this. The problem is that you can pretty much predict everything that is going to happen. It’s like they had a checklist of everything they needed to happen in a supernatural movie and they made sure Mara hit them all. Tough but fair police chief? Check. A volatile, paranoid hermit that happens to be right? Check. A couple too many jump scares? Triple check. Needless to say, there won’t be any surprise twists for seasoned horror fans.
Despite its predictability I would still recommend Mara. Although it feels far too familiar Mara moves at a decent pace, it’s scares are well crafted and cinematographer Emil Topuzov is able to take scenes we have seen before and still provide some scary imagery. It may not be the most original horror movie to come out this year but for those looking for a fun, easy movie for a night in, Mara shouldn’t be slept on.
Links : IMDB
Mara is now in theaters and available on VOD/Digital HD
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