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MARA (2018)

Directed by Clive Tonge
Written by Jonathan Frank
Starring Olga Kurylenko, Javier Botet, Mitch Eakins, Lance E. Nichols, Rosie Fellner, Mackenzie Imsand, Dandy Barrett, Craig Conway, Melissa Bolona, Kathy McGraw, Jacob Grodnik, BettyLynn Allison, Gia Skova, Ted Johnson, Marcus W. Weathersby

A familiar monster and a repetitious story ends up undercutting what is a well acted and decently directed sleep paralysis thriller in MARA.

Plagued by bad dreams, waifish psychologist Kate (Olga Kurylenko) is called in when a family is torn apart by what seems to be a case of a woman killing her husband in his sleep. Upon entering the home, Kate tries to reach out to the woman (Rosie Fellner) and her daughter Sophie (Mackenzie Imsand). But instead of finding a cut and dry case, both the woman and her daughter claim a dream demon named Mara (Javier Botet) was the real killer. When Kate begins to experience sleep paralysis, night terrors, and seeing a spindly specter in her sleep, she begins to believe the monster is real. Seeking further proof that she’s not going nuts, Kate seeks out a self help group that seems to be haunted by Mara as well as a sleep doctor to help prove is Mara is real or a figment of her own psyche. Meanwhile, the night terrors are intensifying and more people are dying in the sleep.

I find the concept of sleep paralysis and night terrors to be fascinating. I myself have experienced both in my days and understand the horror these maladies can inflict. Still, I understand that the reason why I was feeling that way was most likely because of stress and not some dream monster brooding in the shadows. Still there’s a part of me that wants to believe and understands the potential for some real potent horror stories using these ideas. MARA does a decent job exploring these concepts—approaching them from a psychological, clinical, historical, and supernatural angle. It really feels like filmmakers Clive Tonge and Jonathan Frank did their research on the subject and filled this film with as much night terror horror they could gather. The problem is that they go to the same well over and over again with Kate experiencing paralysis, moving her eye slowly around a dark room, and then seeing some sudden movement towards her in the shadows. This may cause for a decent jump scare or two, but it is clear by the third time this occurs that this is all this film has in terms of horror and sadly, that’s not enough.

The acting here is pretty solid to excellent. Though she looks more like a runway model, Olga Kurylenko does a great job as the rookie psychiatrist who has trouble with setting boundaries with her work. Craig Conway who plays one of the sleep deprived loonies named Dougie also gives an standout performance and I look forward to seeing some great character actor work from this guy in the future. I’ve spoken about Javier Botet before in previous reviews. While I’m sure the guy is much more than just a physical actor, he seems to be the lanky guy horror movies go to when Doug Jones isn’t available. The problem is that Jones is also allowed to act a bit and sometimes show his face. Not so with Botet, who plays the lanky guy in a see through sheet and long hair over his face for the umpteenth time. We’ve seen Botet writhe and walk knock kneed in MAMA, THE MUMMY, THE CONJURING 2, IT, SLENDER MAN, INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY, THE CRUCIFIXION, DEVIL’S GATE, DON’T KNOCK TWICE, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR, THE REVENANT, CRIMSON PEAK, [REC]4, [REC]3, [REC]2, and [REC]. Time for some new schtick Javier. It’s not his fault. It just seems directors only know how to use Botet in one or two simple ways in physical roles, but having seen all of these films, seeing Botet move weirdly just doesn’t do it for me anymore. In MARA, Botet’s performance just made me sleepy—something you shouldn’t feel about a movie about sleep paralysis.

MARA is a capable and well acted piece. It’s professionally made and there are a few decent scares. But the use of the same scare technique and the same monster in Botet made my interest go elsewhere the more I saw them.

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