**Contains mild spoilers**
Mara is a supernatural horror film combined with an investigative crime narrative that centres on the frightening phenomenon of sleep paralysis. Olga Kurylenko stars as criminal psychologist Kate Fuller who is drawn into the lore surrounding the mysterious Mara when a series of inexplicable deaths take place.
Is the curse real or is Mara merely a figment of their imagination, conjured through their deepest and darkest fears? The film explores the fascinating subject of the paranormal versus human delusion in a compelling, atmospheric and tension-fuelled tale, forget Freddy Kruger, Mara is the latest source of cinematic nightmares!
Directed by Clive Tonge, Mara strongly utilizes techniques of suspense and confidently drives moments of tension while leaving plenty to the imagination, which is a welcome attribute when it comes to modern horror. The scares are subtle but effective as we experience the terror and confusion alongside the protagonist, Kate.
Olga Kurylenko delivers a poised and elegant performance as the troubled psychologist thrust at the forefront of the action. Kurylenko authentically emotes the sense of fear that her character is suffering alongside showing empathy to her patients. She isn’t afraid to take matters into her own hands, believing there is more to the strange deaths than a cut and dried murder case. She independently investigates against the wishes of police detective McCarthy (Lance E. Nichols) who feels strongly about approaching the unusual case by the book, bringing in a juxtaposing dynamic between the two characters as they figuratively bump heads throughout.
There is a strong supporting cast consisting of Rosie Fellner as Helena, the disturbed young mother, accused of murdering her husband. Fellner brings in a powerful and sometimes unsettling performance. Craig Conway equally steals the show as Dougie, a man haunted by the notion of Mara, taking extreme measures to save himself and warn others of the foreboding horrors that lie ahead.
Mara is a slow burner that soaks up its eerie atmosphere. Even though it takes its time plot-wise, no story elements feel wasted as everything satisfyingly builds up, revealing more as the narrative progresses. The film features a haunting score that adds to the already melancholic atmosphere, heightening the senses by including a score of female voices which evokes a goose bump inducing emotional response. In addition to this, the film includes a disturbing sound design. The film is quiet and unassuming which makes the sound of the threat that more unnerving.
The film’s concept is utterly terrifying, sleep paralysis is incredibly fascinating as it can be commonly experienced. The notion of being locked in a nightmare unable to physically move or scream with a looming, inhuman figure standing above you with insidious intentions is perfect horror movie material, Tonge does an exceptional job in re-creating the vulnerability and fear that’s associated with the condition, allowing the viewers to experience the dread that the characters are facing, blending psychological and visual terror incredibly well.
Mara manages to keep the audience gripped as it weaves layers upon layers of mystery surrounding psychology versus folklore. The film also incorporates a 90’s horror vibe to it in the vein of Candyman, featuring a protagonist who is all-consumed by the horror that’s happening to her after investigating unfamiliar mythology. Like the titular villain of Bernard Rose’s 1992 masterpiece, Mara is not an omnipresent threat, she isn’t fully featured until the later stages of the film, leaving the scares within the power of suggestion to a chilling effect. There are of course references to A Nightmare on Elm Street and The X-Files in a compelling conversation of how pop culture can influence the manifestation of our fears.
Mara is genuinely unnerving, successfully scaring in all the right places, ensuring that you’ll be too afraid to go to sleep again!
Signature Entertainment presents Mara on Amazon Prime August 14th