My notes on the horror film Mara, due out in the US on September 7.
The 2015 documentary The Nightmare seems to have encouraged several sets of filmmakers to work up a fiction film inspired by its chronicle of the seemingly ancient phenomenon of sleep terrors. Jonathan Hopkins’ Slumber, with Maggie Q as a sleep expert delving into a bad case of nightmares and diagnosing ancient demonic entity activity, came out earlier this year … and now looks like a doppelganger of Clive Tonge’s Mara, which casts similarly slim sometime action heroine Olga Kurylenko in a very similar role, and covers much the same territory. As in The Nightmare, both Freddy Krueger and Henry Fuseli get nametagged as key cultural side-effects of the millennia-long reign of the multi-named hag who here mostly goes by Mara – as in nightmare – and is played, perhaps inevitably, by double-jointed Javier Botet (of Mama fame) in a wispy dress with a lot of gnarliness. Kate Fuller (Kurylenko), a criminal psychologist who still feels guilty about her mother’s suicide, is called in to assess Helena (Rosie Fellner), who is accused of strangling her husband in his sleep – though she claims that the contorted, bulging-eyed corpse next to her is the responsibility of a demon which has been bothering her family and seems set to target her innocent daughter Sophie (Mackenzie Imsand) next.
While delving into the mystery, Kate finds a self-help group for nightmare sufferers which helpfully introduces an array of hysterical eccentrics who are marked (by a red spot in the eye) for torment by the ancient demon – including hardboiled ex-soldier Dougie (Craig Conway), who doses on coffee and pills and won’t sleep for more than twenty minutes at a time. Between manifestations of the Mara, which spread through the whole cast, Kate comes up with a few theories as to why these people are being targeted – usually, Mara outbreaks follow some tragedy, and folk who feel most responsible for others’ suffering are most likely to be victims. Here, screenwriter Jonathan Frank misses a trick – this demon zeroes in on people who feel guilty, which theoretically would let sociopaths and selfish bastards off the hook while disproportionately punishing the sensitive. A by-the-numbers creepypasta picture, it has good sequences (Kate falling asleep on an eerily empty ferry) and decent (if familiar) monster design and shock effects. Like Maggie Q, Kurylenko acquits herself well as a harassed brainy heroine – though they also seem to have tried to cope with their own traumas by obsessively working out and retain a high standard of experience even when red-eyed from lack of sleep (and demon marking) and acting like the sort of jittery irrational neurotic infuriating supporting characters can safely ignore and patronise while the monster continues her killing spree.
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