MARA (2018)

Genre: Crime/Horror/Thriller
Director: Clive Tonge
Cast: Olga Kurylenko, Javier Botet, Mitch Eakins, Craig Conway
RunTime: 1 hr 39 mins
Rating: PG13
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Official Website: 

Opening Day:
27 September 2018

Synopsis: Criminal psychologist Kate Fuller (Olga Kurylenko) is assigned to the murder of a man who has seemingly been strangled in his sleep by his wife and the only witness is their eight-year-old daughter, Sophie. As Kate digs into the mystery of an ancient demon which kills people in their sleep, she experiences the same petrifying symptoms as all previous victims and spirals through a chilling nightmare to save herself and Sophie before she dares fall asleep again.

Movie Review:

About 40% of the world’s population suffer from sleep paralysis; and two-thirds of that number describe being attacked by a demonic entity. So claims the latest horror to exploit that disorder, which as you’ve probably guessed, revolves around a titular demon who preys on these sufferers and leaves them dead in contorted agony.

Called in by the police to consult on one such incident is forensic psychologist Kate Fuller (Olga Kurylenko), who at first sees no reason why she should believe the distraught housewife Helena (Rosie Fellner) that a ‘sleep demon’ had murdered her husband in bed, not even when their young daughter Sophie (Mackenzie Imsand) whispers the name of the demon in response to Kate’s questioning.

Kate has Helena committed to a mental institution, whereby not long after the latter is found dead in her room under similar circumstances. Coincidentally, Kate starts experiencing early symptoms of the same condition, i.e. waking up in the middle of the night, conscious but paralysed, as a spindly shadow creeps towards her in her immediate surroundings.

So Kate starts digging deeper, discovering a support group for sleep paralysis sufferers that Helena’s husband had joined not long before his death. It is there she becomes acquainted with a severely disturbed ex-soldier Dougie (Craig Conway), who literally shrieks at her about Mara and how its victims will know if they are marked by checking if they have a blood blotch below their eyeball. Spoiler alert – Kate realises that she has also been marked.

Thus begins a race against time in the last act of the film as Kate tries desperately to save Dougie, Sophie and herself by finding out just what binds them to the demon’s deadly embrace. That link, when it is eventually revealed, isn’t quite that convincing, and bears some similarity to the sort of chain effect that bound Sadako’s victims in ‘The Ring’. Still, first-time feature director Clive Tonge and his co-writer Jonathan Frank concoct a clever enough finish to just about make you forget about the obvious logic gaps in their high-concept narrative.

Just as significantly, Tonge dials up the tempo towards the act, staging sequence after sequence of spine-chilling horror as Mara closes in on each one of those marked, including as we’ve mentioned Kate herself. Though he still relies heavily on jump-scares, Tonge does succeed in building a genuinely unsettling atmosphere of dread in each one of these sequences, especially in emphasising the moments where our victims are clearly aware but utterly helpless in repelling the spindly demon making its way slowly and surely towards them.

Certainly, ‘Mara’ would have benefited from a stronger build-up, which as it stands, doesn’t seem how best to string together its parts: a distraught Helena, an equally upset Rosie, the support group that seems to afflict more than assist its members, a mysterious Japanese person named Takanashi who could be the missing link to the entire puzzle, a hysterical Dougie and last but not least an increasingly paranoid Kate. To Tonge’s credit, his movie does eventually find its feet, not least in bringing its title character (played by Javier Botet) to vivid life when the time comes to finally reveal it in its full glory.

For fans of Ukrainian-born actress and model Kurylenko, ‘Mara’ is a change of pace from the usual femme fatale roles she’s often cast in (look no further than ‘Johnny English Strikes Again’), and she does a convincing enough job carrying the lead role of a sceptic who is confronted with the truth of what she did not previously believe in. Besides Kurylenko, the only other memorable supporting character is Conway’s full-tilt crazy act as Dougie, so it does say something about the strength of her performance seeing as how she carries most of the movie.

‘Mara’ is no classic that’s for sure, but those looking for a horror fix could probably do much worse than this generic horror with a couple of competent set-pieces to get your pulse racing. We’d admit that it’s a bit of a stretch to say that it will make you lose sleep, though having said that, it really is a lot better than some of the other reviews have made it out to be. Let’s just say that if you’ve ever experienced some form of sleep paralysis, you’ll probably find yourself sufficiently spooked.

Movie Rating:

(It's no horror classic, but 'Mara' packs enough genuinely unsettling atmosphere and a couple of spine-chilling set-pieces to satisfy those looking for a no-frills horror fix)

Review by Gabriel Chong


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