Criminal psychologist Kate Fuller 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.
September 7th, 2018
If Dead Awake (the recent horror/thriller from Jeffrey Reddick – see my review here) is an obvious call-out to the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (with Reddick’s admission of same), then the new sleep paralysis film Mara – is clearly taking a note (or two) from Dead Awake.
What’s the term meant for the quality of a copy… of a copy… of a copy? As in, each time something is copied, it becomes less stable… degraded.
Something to do with cloning? Not quite. It has to do with DATA.
The proper term for such an occurrence, is “generation loss”.
And while I believe this will be the first time such a phrase has been applied to a rather unoriginal film, I also believe it’s perfectly apt.
Forensic psychologist Kate Fuller (Quantum of Solace’s Olga Kurylenko) joins her local police department to investigate a recent homicide. As time goes on, other apparent murders take place, and all roads lead to a possible demonic force known as Mara (Javier Botet) – who uses sleep paralysis to take her victims. Fuller becomes personally involved in the proceedings, eventually becoming one of Mara’s intended targets.
Overall, I had a hard time buying into the majority of the performances. There are good moments from some of the leads, but I never got on board with anyone – and for our lead, that’s a bad sign.
It’s always been a problem of my critical other half – that if an actor has an emotional, potentially tear-filled scene to pull off – that they better produce some real water-works. I’ve adopted that outlook as well. I appreciate when an actor goes whole-hog into a deeply difficult scene, but if there are no tears (where necessary), then the illusion end ups sort of shallow and incomplete.
And from several of the actors, this was something which stood out to me… and it’s a distraction. In a later scene, Kurylenko manages to make it happen, but for the prior 90 minutes – it’s a dry county.
This may seem nit-picky, but if you’re attempting to submerge your audience in your story and your characters – nothing can be left to chance (or to “almost there” performances).
Body actor Javier Botet (IT, REC) appears as the titular character. And while his physical performance is creepy (his contorted body parts are certainly unnerving), the overall Mara appearance and acting choices reflect the usual Asian, stringy-haired ghostly creatures we’ve seen countless times over the past 15 years of horror (see my last 50 reviews with a supernatural female antagonist for further complaints of this ilk). Even the creaky joints of these types of monsters are present here. Sigh.
As far as the lead performance from Olga Kurylenko (who looks like she could be a sibling of World War Z’s Mirielle Enos) – I was unimpressed (see above). I’ve said something similar before in other reviews for other performances. I don’t think it’s all Kurylenko’s problem here. I don’t think she’s a bad actress, I just believe that the script did her no favors.
As Dougie (a fellow sleep paralysis sufferer), Craig Conway (The Descent, Doomsday) gives what is probably the best performance in the entire film. When he’s good, he’s very good, but when he’s over-the-top – there is some scenery-chewing going on. It’s not balanced, even for a secondary character.
The production values of the film are pretty good. And while the editing was smooth, continuity solid (other than some questionable “light” injuries, post-car accident) – but other than a few sequences, there was nothing wholly impressive as far as artistic choices. The film’s climax offers some interesting lighting choices – but by that point, it’s far too late to make an impression. And the lighting throughout isn’t bad, just uninspired. It’s a horror film, yo – change things up, throw in some mood and atmosphere.
And some of the better set pieces (the bathtub) were wholly lifted from both A Nightmare on Elm Street and Dead Awake. I get it – a woman in the nude in a tub full of water – there’s vulnerability there. But it’s been done… and done… and done. Time to figure out something else.
I would argue that the later sequence on a ferry was the most promising set-up (an underused locale in horror overall), but even that isn’t used to its full potential here.
The film has a few good “boo” moments, but the clear set-ups for said scares – were too “hit the audience over the head” to prepare them for the obvious jump. And that’s never more prominent than in the aforementioned ferry sequence.
And this problem is the symptom of the film’s biggest issue. And that can be summed up with one simple word.
The backstory for our lead character is far too wishy-washy (again, not helping Kurylenko) for me to really care. It feels odd that Kate so freely opens up to strangers. It’s obviously a way for the character to get what she wants, but it never feels organic. And her connection with Sophie is made via their mutual “mother issues”, but then that relationship is basically forgotten for the entire center of the film and picked up only for the climax. It feels like that should be the driving force for Kate, but it’s abandoned.
I can’t give this film the kiss of death – but frankly, how much better is it to label a film as “a good Saturday afternoon movie which you don’t really have to pay attention to, but which might offer up some slight entertainment”?
Perhaps the “kiss of death” is actually something which lands right in the middle – as if the film is unable to commit to all-out good or all-out bad?
With okay performances, the same old/same old story, sleek production values and the brilliant (but underused here) Javier Botet, Mara is nothing to shout about from the rooftops.
Average (thus my 2.5-star rating) and unoriginal is the name of the game.
Mara is scheduled for a limited theatrical release, as well as on VOD, on September 7th, 2018.