Mara (2018) [REVIEW]

I like to think that I’m tapped into the horror world, but Mara was actually brought to my attention by Wolfgirl as I remained completely oblivious to its existence. It immediately appealed to her because it focused on sleep paralysis and we have a cat named Mara, who often likes to terrorize us while we slept. In other words, this movie was primed to be an adaptation of what we suffer through each and every night, right? Well, lucky for us, our lives aren’t at all similar to Mara, because that would mean our lives are pretty dull and cliched.

When forensic psychiatrist Kate (Olga Kurylenko) responds to a call about a murder, she discovers the patriarch of a household has died in peculiar circumstances, with his neck twisted in an unnatural way. The wife is blamed for the murder while the daughter is cared for by the grandfather, but the wife’s ramblings about a “sleep demon” being responsible are…peculiar. As Kate begins to follow the clues about the origins of this “sleep demon,” Kate gets wrapped up into the deadly plan, putting her in a race against the clock to not only save herself, but everyone else caught in Mara’s path. Mara, you see, is the sleep demon.

I should admit that, while Wolfgirl sent me the trailer, I couldn’t actually bring myself to watch the whole thing, as the mere concept was enough to pique my interest in watching it. Had I watched the whole trailer, I might have braced myself for just how generic and uninspired the film would be.

The film’s biggest (only?) strength is the physical performance of Javier Botet as Mara. The actor’s physical presence rivals that of frequent Guillermo Del Toro collaborator Doug Jones, as his tall and strikingly slender frame lends well to playing a supernatural being. You may have seen him as the Crooked Man in The Conjuring 2 or as the leper in IT, and he once again gives a frightening performance.

The film’s biggest flaw, of which there are many, is the convoluted explanation of why and who Mara attacks. You’d think it would be as simple as, “Well there was a lady and maybe she died for this reason or whatever and now she terrorizes people in her sleep or something,” but the justification was even more boring than what I just concocted. Instead, there’s the premise that Mara first marks a victim with a red dot on their eyeball, and then after a random amount of time, her pursuit becomes more motivated, and then…listen, there were like, four fucking stages all about her pursuit of victims, and they were all stupid and nonsensical. The whole time you’re expecting there to be some clever spin or twist like in The Ring that ties all the loose threads together, but instead, it goes nowhere and makes you angry that the filmmakers couldn’t have thought of something more clever. You’d think that the narrative to explain sleep paralysis would be, oh, I don’t know THE most important fucking thing in the movie, though it becomes clear that they convinced Botet to wear a dress and little more thought went into the actual plot.

I’ve never experienced sleep paralysis myself, though I hear it’s a horrifying ordeal. The closest I’ve seen to an effective recreation of the feeling is The Nightmare, yet even that film wasn’t so much effective for me so much as it made me comprehend the sensations. Given the number of people who suffer from sleep paralysis across the world, you’d think the film would try to find a universal explanation for why the phenomenon takes place so that the next time someone went through it, they’d think of the movie and freak out, but it might actually be more frightening to be awake and think of the movie, as you’re left wondering why it exists in the first place. Botet’s physicality is the only thing that saves the movie from being completely abysmal, though there are better movies where you can see his skills.

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