Movie Review: MARA (2018)

If at any point in time you’ve ever dreamed that someone would make a movie that somehow combines Nightmare On Elm Street and The Ring, your dreams have just came true. The latest film from director Clive Tonge (Sunday Best) and writer Jonathan Frank (Heist); MARA is the closest approximation of combining the two universes of the aforementioned films.

The film centers on forensic psychologist, Kate Fuller (Olga Kurylenko; Vampire Academy, Oblivion) and her journey to find an explanation for a series of bizarre deaths of people who all belonged to a sleep paralysis support group lead by Dr. Ellis (Mitch Eakins; the Evil Bong trilogy). Kate is brought onto the scene of what was believed to be a homicide. A man is dead on his bed, his face distorted in a disturbing other worldly manner. His wife, Helena (Rosie Fellner; Heist, The Trip to Italy) and daughter Sophie (Mackenzie Imsand in her debut role) were both present for an extremely disturbing and unbelievable event.

Helena claims to Dr. Fuller that a demon killed her husband, Matthew, while he was in a state of sleep paralysis. The policeman Kate is working with, Detective McCarthy (Lane E. Nichols; Treme, House of Cards) obviously thinks that Helena is nuts and asks for Kate to fill out paperwork to have her committed. Kate reluctantly files the paperwork and then starts to experience sleep paralysis herself. As time goes by, Kate seems to think that there might be some truth to what Helena said after all.

This is the point where she attends the sleep paralysis support group that Matthew attended and meets amongst others, Saul (Marcus W. Weathersby in his debut feature role) and Dougie (Craig Conway; The Descent, Doomsday). Saul is talking about how he sees “her” while he’s awake now. “Her” is MARA, which is the name that has been given to the sleep demon. Dougie yells at Saul not to sleep or he will die (sound familiar?), and goes on a major rant in front of the whole group. Saul then decides self-immolation is a better way to go than waiting for Mara to get him, and at this point, Detective McCarthy starts to believe that there’s something more to the case than just a wife gone crazy.

The plot exposition can stop there because it’s so full of twists and jump scares from pretty much that point until the very end of the movie. Which is something I have a small complaint about. I feel as though they had came up with a happy ending and a sad one, and decided to keep them both. Unfortunately I can’t go into further detail but you can watch the movie to see if you agree with me or not. Otherwise MARA is incredibly well written and there are some great performances. Olga Kurylenko is great but I have to give the biggest accolade to Craig Conway for his performance as Dougie. He plays the sleep-deprived war vet role to a t and I think he should be sought out for more roles after this film, for sure.

Another small gripe I have about MARA, that could just be a matter of personal taste, is the over use of The Ring or just general Asian Horror-esque ghostly special effects. The jerky unnatural movements, the stringy hair and gross face of the titular demon all feel they belong in a Japanese horror movie in my opinion. I feel like they could have gone for a more original design scheme but that is not to say I didn’t enjoy the film. There are several other films that are guilty of using these tropes as well. I just find that most demon make up and effects heavily borrow from pre-existing popular films, when in my opinion there’s a whole world of special effects possibilities in regards to demons that haven’t been explored yet.

Other than that, I definitely thought MARA was scary and entertaining. The writing, the direction, the actors, and especially the incredibly creepy and unsettling sound design were excellent. I highly recommend seeing this movie if you like your Dream Demons and your Freddy Kruegers, because they share a lot of common ground. Also, if you ever needed to stay awake, this might be the thing to watch. I had every intention of taking a nap when I was done writing this but now I’m not sure if I’ll be able to sleep for the rest of the week.

Check out MARA, in theaters September 7th.

Lorry Kikta
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