Starring Olga Kurylenko, Craig Conway, Javier Botet
Directed by Clive Tonge
I hate when a film has a great looking trailer and the film turns out to be terrible. Unfortunately, this was my experience with with Clive Tonge’s Mara. And I was interested in the subject, too! After watching 2015’s The Nightmare on Netflix, demonic encounters during sleep paralysis has been something quite fascinating to me. Like a lot of people, I went through a period of sleep paralysis during a time of great stress when I was a teenager. I never saw any demonic entities. It just sucked. So I can kinda-sorta relate. But Mara, while technically sound, is a by-the-numbers low budget horror flick that’s severely lacking in creativity. There’s not much to recommend here.
Olga Kurylenko plays Kate, a criminal psychologist investigating the circumstances of a man’s gruesome death. Was a demon who came to him during sleep paralysis responsible, as his wife claims? Is the wife delusional or trying to cover up the murder? As Kate digs deeper, she finds herself a victim of sleep paralysis, and also Mara, a demon who enjoys torturing people when they’re in this vulnerable state.
Kurylenko is a good actress, but her performance seems at least partially phoned in for this one. The rest of the performances are pretty standard low budget fare that range from decent to terrible. This would be forgivable, of course, if the plot was interesting.
The melodramatic acting does create some moments of unintentional comedy, though. One woman’s scream sounds eerily similar to the guys in those old Budweiser commercials who used to shout, “wassup.” Definitely not very scary, that one.
Tonge’s script, co-written with Jonathan Frank, isn’t terrible, though it’s certainly quite conventional. You’re safe during the day, the monsters come at night. That sort of thing. Actually, at first it seemed like the movie was going to have at least a mildly interesting premise. A woman involuntarily committed to an institution suspected of killing her husband is visited by the same demon who she blames for her husband’s death. And of course nobody believes her. But that thread is dropped pretty quickly.
One problem, both story and directing-wise, is that it’s damn hard to make paralysis seem visually interesting. If you can’t move or scream, all of the communication is in the eyes, and you need very good actors to pull that off convincingly. This does not happen here. Often, it looks like Kurylenko is having herself a nice extended stretch.
Another more important story problem is that there just aren’t any real characters, only archetypes and stereotypes. We’ve got the cynical police officer, the skeptical scientist, the seemingly insane guy who actually knows what’s really going on, and of course, the grumpy grandpa.
The worst part is that the movie is so predictable that it’s hard to get through. The last thirty minutes were an excruciating slog. I couldn’t wait for the thing to just get it over with and get to the end.
There are a few things that are actually quite effective, though. The makeup effects on the dead bodies, with their twisted and broken limbs, look great. And there’s a cool scene where the blood flows like crazy when a man decides to cut his eyelid off in order to stay awake. Also the Mara costume is great, and quite convincing.
As cool as those things are, though, it’s not enough to make the rest of the film interesting. Really, if you want to watch a good film on sleep paralysis, skip this one and watch The Nightmare on Netflix. You’ll have a much better time.