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Mara (Movie Review)

Mara (Movie Review)
7 10

PLOT: Digging into a series of mysterious deaths, a forensic psychologist discovers the existence of an ancient demon who kills people while they're experiencing sleep paralysis. 

REVIEW: Any movie that centers on the idea of an evil entity who kills people while they're sleeping is going to draw comparisons to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. It's inevitable, and the filmmakers know it. There was a movie released last year, DEAD AWAKE, that was about a demon killing people while they were experiencing sleep paralysis, and it was so blatant in the fact that it was drawing inspiration from the ELM STREET franchise that it was practically an ELM STREET fan film. Director Clive Tonge's film MARA is also about a demon killing people while they experience sleep paralysis (this is a legend that has been around for a very long time), but it does a better job of standing on its own than DEAD AWAKE did.

That's not to say there aren't plenty of moments that will be giving you ELM STREET flashbacks, though. When a character falls asleep in a bathtub, or is taken to a sleep clinic, or is so desperate to stay awake that they attempt to cut off their own eyelids, you'll definitely be thinking of things from ELM STREET movies - but MARA still doesn't have the feel of being a rip-off. Tonge and screenwriter Jonathan Frank do tip their hats to their famous predecessor; Freddy Krueger is mentioned in the dialogue, and there's a reference to the real world events that inspired Wes Craven to come up with the ELM STREET concept in the first place. I think it was wise of them to openly address the elephant in the room, kind of saying, "Yes, we know you've seen something like this before, but give our version a chance."

MARA also earned a couple points from me immediately with the casting of Olga Kurylenko in the lead role. James Bond movies and Tom Cruise movies are two of my favorite things, so I'm a fan of Kurylenko from her work in QUANTUM OF SOLACE and OBLIVION and was glad to see her as the heroine in a horror movie. Here she plays forensic psychologist Kate Fuller, who becomes involved with the investigation of a series of mysterious deaths where people have been killed in their beds. Fuller has to make the tough decision to have a little girl's mother institutionalized when the women won't stop blaming a demon for the death of her husband... but Fuller knows what it's like to be a child whose mother is taken away from them, so she feels guilty about her decision and takes it upon herself to figure out what's killing these people, how, and why.

Through her personal investigation, Fuller is introduced to a support group for people suffering from frequent sleep paralysis, and that leads to the discovery of the demonic title character, as the people in the support group are being picked off one-by-one.

This film doesn't have anything to show horror fans that we haven't seen before, but it is a well made film that presents its familiar scenarios in a way that held my interest. Tonge made his feature directorial debut with MARA, and it's a solid way to get a feature career started. It moves along at a decent pace, the scare scenes are capably handled, cinematographer Emil Topuzov captured some nice imagery, and the special effects team provided a couple cool looking corpses.

There was also an appreciated effort put in to give the characters some depth, especially Fuller and a sleep-deprived ally she makes along the way, Dougie Trenton. Dougie is played by Craig Conway, who has some intense scenes and delivers a great emotional monologue at one point. Kurylenko did well bringing Fuller to life, and acted the hell out of her sleep paralysis moments.

If there's one thing I could nitpick about MARA, it's the title character. She is not a great villain, despite being portrayed by frequent creature performer Javier Botet. Sporting long hair and a dress, she's quite generic, just appearing in front of people, moving over to them with creaky bones, and silently crawling on top of them to strangle them. Of course, there was never any chance this character was going to live up to her fellow sleep stalker Freddy, but they could have done something more interesting with the "night hag" idea than this.

Although the villain is dull, she's in a good movie. MARA isn't going to rock any worlds, but it's worth checking out when you need a horror fix.

Extra Tidbit: Saban Films is giving MARA a theatrical and VOD / Digital HD release on September 7th.

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