Awakened in the night, young Sophie (Mackenzie Imsand) clutches her teddy bear and peers into the darkness of her room. She hears scary sounds and slips out of bed to investigate. She tiptoes closer to her parents’ bedroom, hearing shrieks and sounds of a struggle. When she reaches for the door handle, her mother suddenly springs from the room, grasping her daughter in a bear hug, telling her to close her eyes. On the bed behind them, Sophie’s father lies contorted, his red eyes staring lifelessly at his wife and child who cower in the hallway.
Called to the scene, rookie investigative psychologist Kate Fuller (Olga Kurylenko, “Momentum”) is shown Matthew Wynsfield’s body by Detective McCarthy (Lance E. Nichols, “Believe”) because she “needs to understand the reality of what we’re dealing with” before she evaluates suspect Helena Wynsfield’s (Rosie Fellner, “Patient 001”) state of mind. Helena, however, isn’t talking, clearly shaken by last night’s events, so Kate seeks out young Sophie who won’t come out from her hiding spot under the bed. Sophie reluctantly tells Kate she heard the attack, and when asked “Who hurt Daddy?” she whispers in reply a single name: “Mara.”
Later, in the interrogation room, Helena describes Matthew’s struggles with sleep paralysis — he often woke up in the night, unable to move, feeling pressed into the mattress as if something evil was in the room with him. Matthew’s struggles eased a bit when he joined a support group, even though he still reported seeing a sleep demon during his episodes. Kate visits the support group in search of answers and a man named Dougie (Craig Conway, “Doomsday”), whom Helena and Matthew knew. She listens intently to the group’s stories, and is shocked to hear their similarities to Sophie’s and Helena’s claims — that a haggard old woman called Mara marks her victims and stalks them in the night. Once you start seeing her in your waking hours, your time has come, and the next time you sleep, she will kill you.
Dougie chastises the group, trying to get them to accept the truth — Mara is no hallucination, and she is after them all. As her investigation continues, Kate wrestles with Detective McCarthy’s refusal to believe the stories and his conviction that Helena is clearly the murderer. She takes Dougie’s story seriously, and digs deeper into the emerging pattern of recent deaths in the area. She also contends with troubled sleep, feeling pushed into her own mattress at night, and seeing what appears to be an old, crooked-jointed woman lurking in the shadows . . .
Directed by Clive Tonge and written by Jonathan Frank, Mara is a blend of basic paranormal horror tropes we’ve come to know all too well with unexplained bumps in the night, people tormented by visions of contorted shadow demons, and hunted and assaulted in their sleep by unknown supernatural forces. However, Frank’s legend of an ancient entity is a story better suited for a one-hour anthology episode than a feature film, as the story plods along desperately trying to fill its 98-minute run-time with drawn out, repetitive and disappointingly predictable scenes. It’s a shame too, because Olga carriers herself well, although the investigation her Kate conducts is too on-the-nose and her arguments with Nichols (who also carriers himself well enough) take the viewer out of the film more often than not.
It’s also a unfortunate as I’m a fan of horror thrillers and most things supernatural. It’s clear what Tonge and team were aiming for, but unfortunately, Mara isn’t nearly effective enough to push aside more recent films like “Mama,” “Lights Out,” or “Darkness Falls,” and it’s definitely not enough to overshadow the granddaddy of them all, “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” which is even given a well-deserved nod by the sleep specialist, Dr. Ellis (Mitch Eakins,“1968 Tunnel Rats”).
A movie like this needs to get under your skin to be memorable, yet without an authentically frightening entity or a compelling mystery begging to be solved, Mara comes up as anything but.