I initially wanted to watch Mara because sleep paralysis is something that I know a little about. It’s a phenomenon that’s been around forever, and there are generations of stories of people waking up but being unable to move. What’s not so common, but by no means rare, is that in this state some people will see dark, scary figures in the room with them, sometimes climbing up on top of them.
Whilst I never had a creepy old woman climb onto my chest, I have experienced sleep paralysis, and seen a shadowy figure watching me when it’s happened. As such, I was really interested to see how the film would handle this. Luckily, Mara doesn’t rely on using sleep paralysis all the time, and manages to craft something of a mystery story into its horror narrative too, one that I found pretty entertaining.
The story follows Kate (Olga Kurylenko), a psychologist working with the police, who gets called in to help with a murder where a man has been found killed in his bed, with his wife being the main suspect. However, the wife is claiming that a sleep demon killed her husband, and Kate has to figure out if she’s faking, or legitimately crazy. This spurs into motion a series of events that lead to several more killings, and Kate beginning to experience disturbing bouts of sleep paralysis.
The story reminded me of films like The Ring or The Grudge, where there’s a spooky central antagonist, but the hero has to get to the bottom of a bigger mystery to figure out what this creature is, and to save themself. Kate gets some help in her investigation from Dougie (Craig Conway), a member of a sleep paralysis support group who puts a name to this strange creature: Mara. Together the two of them try to stop Mara before they become her latest victims.
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The central mystery is pretty good, and the reason why Mara is there and targeting specific people is a neat little reveal, with the clues laid out over the run time. It means that if you’re trying to figure it out and pay enough attention you can have a good bit of fun trying to get the answer before Kate. The film also looks really nice, and has some great cinematography from Emil Topuzov. There’s nothing that really jumps out as special, but it gets progressively darker in visual tone as Kate loses more and more sleep, mirroring the increasing darkness descending on her as she struggles to stay awake.
Mara herself is also a really creepy creation, with veteran monster actor Javier Botet in the role. Botet is a great suit actor, having brought creatures to life in things such as IT, Game of Thrones, Slender Man, and Alien, and breathes so much life into Mara that when you actually see her fully, and the camera isn’t trying to hide her, she’s still hugely disturbing; something that’s really hard to do with the creature in full frame.
Director Clive Tongue does great job at bringing a difficult subject to film. It’s easy to make sleep paralysis scary for a scene or two, but Tongue manages make it creepy and disturbing time after time, and makes the central story engaging and interesting throughout. If you enjoy a supernatural mystery horror like The Ring, then Mara will definitely keep you entertained.
Mara is available on Amazon Prime from 14th August.