Easy to watch, but ultimately lacking, ‘Mara’ is an odd example of a film whose final product is somewhat less than the sum of the parts!
Allow me to explain.
Synopsis: When Kate, a criminal psychologist, is called out to investigate the strange death of a man found with his neck snapped in his bed his distraught wife puts the blame on an entity known as Mara, a demon who uses sleep paralysis to ensnare her victims. Its not long before Kate begins to see Mara for herself, forcing her to delve deeper into a world of superstition and folklore before she becomes the demon’s latest victim.
And so the ‘old hag’ returns once again to sit on chests and choke the life from victims; she’s something of a mainstay in horror (although not perhaps the first genre stalker you might think of) featuring in similar films such as ‘Dead Awake’ and ‘Slumber’ amongst others; the issue being, this film is very similar to every other. It would appear that ‘Mara’ or the ‘old Hag’ is perhaps a bit limited in scope.
And the issue is, in ‘Mara’, writer/director Clive Tonge lets his demon out the bag a little too early as we see the entity and her creepy shambling within the first 20 minutes or so, leaving the tension and chills with little chance to escalate.
Whilst some of scare sequences offer some decent jolts their overall effectiveness gets diluted somewhat, bogged down in some prolonged exposition in the later thirds of the film as Tongue and fellow writer Jonathan Frank try to give their version of the sleep demon a fresh coat of identity adding in some interesting, but ultimately shallow lore.
So, does ‘Mara’ provide anything in the way of merit?
Well yes, sort of, as in, its not that bad of a film all in.
The acting is strong throughout, and the overall characterisation and tone of the film is well established. There are the usual tropes, vulnerable but morally driven female lead, kid in peril a crazy guy obsessed with the occult and the more grounded authority figure to add balance; but it all works. ‘Mara’ the demon has her moments of being tangibly terrifying – heavily influenced by a certain Asian spectre, and of course the tension is nicely rounded off with a number of ‘Blumhouse’ style jolts; admittedly, these are a little hit or miss however.
Somehow, however, the film as a whole just doesn’t gel.
Overall, I am not really sure why ‘Mara’ didn’t strike the balance right as, production wise, everybody seemed know what they were doing. I was enjoying ‘Mara’ at the start, it was (admittedly) a familiar feeling popcorn horror, but it was doing the job for a Saturday night. Sadly though, as the runtime plodded on, and the exposition kicked in, the writing lacked focus and the pace of the movie suffered as a result. The finale too failed to reclaim the lost attention as, like I mentioned, it was essentially more of what you’ve been watching for the last 90 minutes prior. Shame in a way, but ho hum, perhaps the Old Hag concept is just, well, getting old in the tooth?