★ / ★★★★
The ineffectiveness of “Mara” brings to mind remakes of Japanese horror films that plagued the 2000s. There is nothing special about it, just a series of soporific incidents that lead up to an investigation followed by a would-be twist ending that leaves the viewer bewildered that the writers actually thought they could get with such mediocrity. Not even the look of the supernatural entity is inspired: long black hair, face rarely shown, body movements reduced to random ticks and convulsions. When it appears, the supposedly creepy score screams readily and directly at the viewers’ eardrums. Because it offers nothing new, the film, ironically, is a sleeping pill.
I wondered why the writer and director, Jonathan Frank and Clive Tonge, respectively, felt the need to tell this story. The opening seconds inform the audience that forty percent of the population experience sleep paralysis. It goes beyond culture; some accounts are so intense that there have been numerous reports of demon visitations. Despite a mildly intriguing premise, the filmmakers fail to get the audience to care. For most of the film’s running time, people end up dead and yet there is no suspense or intrigue. There is not even one character worth rooting for.
Olga Kurylenko plays Kate, a rookie forensic psychologist who is called upon to examine a woman whose husband passed away in his sleep. The wife is the prime suspect. We all know how this goes: a tyro investigator is thrown off the deep end, she begins to experience what she doubted, and by the end she ends up sounding and acting like a crazy person. Kurylenko does she can with the role but she is not given anything particularly interesting to do or say. Without a strong protagonist, or at least one with interesting thoughts or motivations, the mystery to be solved ends up feeling light and forgettable. There is no excitement injected in the dramatic parabola that must be followed. If you cannot forge a path, at least traverse it with zest.
So-called scares are as generic as they come. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. In this case: a person sleeps, she walks up paralyzed, she feels pressure around her body like something is climbing on top of her but without making physical contact (at first), and she sees an entity from across the room. Throughout the course of the picture, this figure gets closer. And the whole charade is supposed to be scary. I guess if you’ve never seen a supernatural horror film it can be. Or if you have an extremely low tolerance for such nonsense. A rule of horror: It isn’t about the scare but how it is executed.
“Mara” offers a minefield of genre clichés. If you were to take a shot after encountering every cliché that is without a hint of freshness or an iota of intelligence behind it, you’d end up dead from alcohol poisoning. This is what results when a material lacks genuine inspiration.