Mara (Movie Review)

Almost everyone will experience sleep paralysis at some point in their lifetime, a curious condition that can leave people stuck on the edge of the world of the waking, unable to move or to cry out for help. In the haunting new Horror flick Mara – which arrives to select theaters on Friday, September 7, 2018, thanks to Saban Films – this condition goes hand-in-hand with a demon who wants to take your life. Do not fall asleep!

Mara still.

In a beautiful colonial home in the posh suburbs of Savannah, Georgia, Helena Wynsfield (Rosie Fellner: Age of Heroes 2011, Heist 2015) is accused of murdering her husband Matthew. The sole witness to the crime is the couple’s beautiful young daughter, Sophie (Mackenzie Imsand in her acting debut). Though the case appears cut and dry to Detective Mike McCarthy (Lance E. Nichols: Treme series, House of Cards series), he brings in rookie Forensic Psychologist Dr. Kate Fuller (Olga Kurylenko: Quantum of Solace 2008, Oblivion 2013) to consult on the suspect’s mental state.

As Dr. Fuller sits down to interview Helena, she is informed that the wife and mother woke up that evening, paralyzed and pressed into the mattress, but fully aware that something evil was lurking inside her bedroom. She swears on her daughter’s life that she did not kill her husband, that the cause of his death is the sleep demon Mara. Confused but believing that Mrs. Wynfield is delusional, Dr. Fuller shares an emotional first meeting with young Sophie, who explains that she heard scary noises coming from her parent’s bedroom, and she and her teddy bear, Mr. Fluffy Jojo, went to investigate. When asked who hurt her daddy, she whispers, “Mara.”

Under pressure to have Helena Wynfield committed so that the police can quickly close out their murder case, Dr. Fuller signs on the dotted line but she has heavy reservations. On her own time, she begins to investigate the case further, finding links to several other individuals – including Mr. Takahashi, Saul Conlon (Marcus W. Weathersby: Dead Silent series, Girls Against Humanity short 2016), and Dougie Trenton (Craig Conway: Doomsday 2008, Estranged 2015) – all members of a sleep paralysis support group. With the help of the group’s leader, Dr. Martin Ellis (Mitch Eakins: Glory Road 2006, Evil Bong 2: King Bong 2009), Dr. Fuller will dive deeper and deeper into the sleep-deprived web of Mara (Javier Botet: It 2017, Hostile 2018). But what is Mara exactly and what does she want with all of these seemingly unconnected individuals?

Mara still.

From Producer Steven Schneider (Paranormal Activity 2007, Insidious 2010) comes Mara, which is a truly impressive feature-length directorial debut for Clive Tonge (Emily and the Baba Yaga short 2005, Sunday Best short 2011) and was written by Tonge and Jonathan Frank (Chaingangs short 2003, The Tournament 2009). Clocking in at 99 minutes in-length, the film utilizes elements of the Crime Drama, Thrillers, and Horror to create something that is intriguing and often creeptastic.

In the Horror layers of its script, Mara delves into Scandinavian folklore, and the sleep demon known as the mara – who is said to sit on a sleeping victim’s chest and bring about nightmares. Intriguingly, embedded much further into this haunting tale is a story of guilt and inner demons, those untouchable entities that can do far more damage than any paranormal creature ever will. This dichotomy makes Mara an intriguing new offering in the Horror market, though not an entirely flawless one.

The clear strength of Mara is in its Horror elements and its gangly, bizarre and entirely creepy titular creature, which comes much in thanks to the exceptional talents of Javier Botet. Botet, who suffers from Marfan syndrome, has turned a potential negative into a positive in his acting career, delivering some truly spooky performances in a myriad of roles, and he does wonderfully here, as well. Botet’s abilities bolster the scary portions of the film, which is necessary to overcome many of its weak points, particularly, its largely banal script.

Mara still.

Let’s face it: the idea that a murder could be the work of a paranormal entity is nothing new, nor is the idea of trying to make viewers choose between scientific explanations and supernatural phenomenon. Throughout Mara, many of the scenes and occurrences are entirely cliché or predictable – and those jump-scares are certainly nothing noteworthy. Yet, there is something about the oft moody, dark lighting and the spine-tingling tension that allows Mara to triumph as an enjoyably haunting and truly creepy offering.

Part of that success is due to Botet, but part is due to the stellar acting talents of Lead Actress Kurylenko, who is believable in her role as the empathetic psychologist, a woman who lost her own mother to the quagmires of schizophrenia. Kurylenko’s dedication to her character pays off in kind, creating a professional who has not forgotten real-life emotion. Had Kurylenko over or under-acted, we might have a film that feels cheesy and completely unbelievable; a fantasy that we could never truly lose ourselves inside. Instead, Mara feels like a surreality, one that is engaging even if it does somewhat overstay its run time.

Nowadays, the mark of a good Horror offering isn’t always found in a mind-bending tale of originality, but rather its ability to raise the hair on the backs of its audience’s necks and keep them sleeping with the lights on for days to come. Here, Mara certainly does that! She is sufficiently creepy, even if she stumbles a bit along the way. In its own words: “Mara is real, she is very, very real, and she will kill each and every one of is!” Only sleeping twenty minutes at a time, CrypticRock give Mara 4 of 5 stars.

Saban Films

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