Mara Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Saban Films
Directed by Clive Tonge
Written by Jonathan Frank
2018, 99 minutes, Not Rated
Released on September 7th, 2018
Olga Kurylenko as Dr. Kate Fuller
Craig Conway as Dougie
Mackenzie Imsand as Sophie Wynsfield
Rosie Fellner as Helena Wynsfield
Lance E. Nichols as Detective McCarthy
Mitch Eakins as Martin Ellis
Javier Botet as Mara
I’m a diagnosed narcoleptic. It’s not quite like you see in the movies. You know how we’re all portrayed – talking one minute and unconscious the next. I simply have a very easy time falling asleep (I can hit R.E.M. sleep in literal minutes), and I really enjoy it. I average nine to ten hours a night instead of the six to eight hours other folks get. I can’t understand the concept of sleep paralysis. Hell, I don’t even remember my dreams.
Needless to say, when I saw the trailer for Mara, my interest was aroused. “Sleep horror” is ripe territory because of its universal nature. We all must sleep, and we are all incredibly vulnerable when we sleep. It’s a story that practically writes itself. Nightmares are powerful things (just look up the insane story that inspired A Nightmare on Elm Street). Sleep paralysis is a very real thing; 7.6% of the general population has experienced it at least once. That’s genuinely terrifying, and good horror should be grounded in either the very real or the utterly ludicrous.
Mara is the story of forensic pathologist Dr. Kate Fuller (Olga Kurylenko, Quantum of Solace), who’s called in to assist Detective McCarthy (Lance E. Nichols, AMC’s Into the Badlands) on a homicide case. A man is dead seemingly by the hand of his wife Helena Wynsfield (Rosie Fellner, Heist) and their daughter Sophie (Mackenzie Imsand) is the only witness. Kate’s involvement leads to Helena’s commitment to the local mental institution, but it also exposes her to the story of “Mara”, a sleep demon who supposedly reaches you during sleep paralysis and eventually kills you. Further investigation via the aid of support group nutjob Dougie (Craig Conway, Doomsday) digs up the horrible truth of a creature that has been terrorizing mankind for thousands of years. As Craig tells Kate: “Mara predates Jesus Christ!”
Olga Kurylenko is a natural beauty known for playing parts that accentuate that. However, she’s not here for the eye candy and wow factor. This is an understated and dressed down role that gives her room to show some acting chops while keeping the eyes off her stunning good looks, and she makes the most of it. She’s believable in a role that requires both clinical analysis and tenderness. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still easy on the eyes, but you forget that you’re looking at a Bond girl. Kudos!
The cinematography and color palette on display are a noticeable selling point. Going for point/counterpoint with Kate and the current victim of Mara with the creepy and ubiquitous “it’s in every Chinese restaurant in the world” beckoning cat clock as a metronome for the scene bounce is a particularly nice touch. In that way, her descent into the depth of Mara’s clutches is linear and logical.
The dream/paralysis scenes are suitably hazy, and the action happens at the periphery. Director Clive Tonge (in his first full-length picture) understands very well that often it’s where your mind has to fill in the blanks that the true horror happens. A little bit of the old slash and splatter is fantastic, but there’s something to be said for a little restraint every now and then. Your brain will make it as horrific as it needs to be. Still, it’s not all left to the imagination.
Cue the film’s shining star, Javier Botet a.k.a. “The Leper” from It, a.k.a. “Key Face” from Insidious: The Last Key, a.k.a. “The Crooked Man” from The Conjuring 2. Botet is the gold standard for horror movie monsters in the modern day, and I can only imagine that they were shitting their pants with excitement at landing him for the critical role of Mara. They could have done that role with CGI, and it would have been effective enough. When you get Javier Botet, though, you get it all: creep factor of a zillion, disjointed movement, spindly frame, and movement like no other. He lends an authenticity that you just can’t fake, and it puts Mara over the top.
The gripe to be had comes in the form of the standard “if only it were an R-rating” dig. I’m quite sure this one will be PG-13. It’s very safe in that regard. There’s no nudity, gore, et cetera. Still, if that’s the only knock, then I’d say you’ve hit the mark you were looking for. I hope plenty of people see this one.