Though some report that throwing pasta at the wall is the best way to test if it’s al dente, throwing horror elements at the wall, to see what sticks, is no way to make a movie. If you do that, you end up with Mara, and nobody wants that.
The story starts with a horrible image. A husband dies in a horrific manner, his wife is blamed, and their daughter is taken away. Psychologist Dr. Kate Fuller (Olga Kurylenko) works with police to assess the daughter’s mental state and see if she can get closer to the truth. When the little girl tells Kate that Mara did it, the game is afoot.
It turns out that Mara is a sleep demon who causes sleep paralysis and then kills. This all comes out from the wife effortlessly in what must be the easiest police interrogation ever conducted. Following the demon confession, Kate’s sergeant declares that the wife must be a “certifiable froot loop” and asks for Kate’s report by morning. This line was apparently so precious to either the film’s director or writer that it’s repeated once again by the sergeant before the scene is over.
This is the most glaring problem I had with Mara: the dialogue come across as if it were written by a computer program that only had access to made-for-TV movies. It’s distracting, hollow, and ineffective. If the film had any semblance of intrigue or gumption, I could see it becoming the next The Room based on the quality of the dialogue alone, but I don’t think anyone will want to watch it more than once.
The characters in Mara are as wooden as the dialogue. Kurylenko was wonderful in Dans la brume earlier this year, but she struggles here with so little to do. Kate drinks and fights crime, but she’s never conceptualized as a three-dimensional character. The one exception is an unhinged performance by Craig Conway as Dougie, a member of a sleep paralysis support group. He seems to be the only one aware of the film’s absurdity.
Beyond that, Mara doesn’t quite know what to tell the audience it should be afraid of. Should we be terrified of sleep paralysis, like we were in The Nightmare, or sleep in general, like we were in Nightmare on Elm Street? Bafflingly, it proposes both, but doesn’t stop there. Is it demons we should fear too? Nothing is clear.
Horror need not be neat and tidy, but haphazard, unorganized scares with underdeveloped characters and dialogue that rivals fingernails on a chalkboard is beyond untidy. It’s simply unnecessary.