Criminal psychologist Kate Fuller is assigned to the murder of a man who has seemingly been strangled in his sleep by his wife and the only witness is their eight-year-old daughter, Sophie. As Kate digs into the mystery of an ancient demon which kills people in their sleep, she experiences the same petrifying symptoms as all previous victims and spirals through a chilling nightmare to save herself and Sophie before she dares fall asleep again.
For a number of years now we have all borne witness to the implementation of serious drama into horror films, ever since films such as World War Z and The Ring made their mark upon the horror landscape. Frankly, as a psychodramatist, I welcome this innovation avidly. The foundation of drama is conflict, and horror, if nothing else, is the epitome of conflict.
This can sometimes come down to conflicts that are internal, (eg. madness/moral dissolution). More often than not it revolves around conflicts that are external, (eg. whatever evil scary thing that comes along to destroy everyone). Whatever the conflict in question is, horror takes that dramatic premise and embellishes it to the point that we, the audience, are heebie-jeebied as we silently yearn for the re-establishment of what we perceive to be stability. The only conditionality that we must insist upon in order to have that experience is that the movie be a good one. The secret to that accomplishment has not changed in 100 years. You need to combine a good idea with the right actor to tell the story. If a producer/director can do that, they’ll have a good movie.
Mara does a wonderful job of fulfilling this need within the current context of what many people want from a solid horror film.
The film revolves around a frighteningly common sleep-based phenomenon known as “sleep paralysis”. Basically, it’s when your body wakes up while your brain is still fighting to pull itself upwards from the dream that it is in. The two most common features of this condition are the feeling of having a heavy weight upon your chest making it impossible for you to move, and the distinct impression that something else is in your place due to auditory hallucinations. This combination induces a state of terror that in turn intensifies the paralysis that one is experiencing.
Olga Kurylenko plays a psychologist who is brought in to determine the psychological fitness of a woman who is accused of killing her husband. The wife insists that an entity named “Mara” is the one who is responsible for the killing even though the wife does have a decent motive for killing her husband. The wife states that her husband has always suffered from sleep paralysis and he had been going to a support group that helps people in a group therapy environment deal with this particular malady. It’s within this support group that Olga learns that a number of other people also believe in the existence of this malevolent entity.
I’m only familiar with OK’s work from a tv show called Magic City and this is a very different role for her as opposed to that show. She does an admirable job of stretching herself in order to portray her character in a sympathetically human way. I found her effort in this film to be very tight and focused, and it looked obvious to me that she really wants to branch out. She understood that in order to be taken seriously she was going to have to take some serious risks. This film appears to be a personal turning point for her in her pursuit of more challenging roles. (Or at least I hope she does).
Mara spaces out the scares and it provides some nice dollops of atmosphere here and there without heavily relying upon jump scares and atmosphere in order to crank up our anxiety. For that the film relies almost completely upon the story, as well as Olga, to deliver the buzz that we’re seeking as the audience. Interestingly the film didn’t go overboard with the effects either, which gave the final result more of an organic feel, and in turn it didn’t feel stagey or fake.
I really enjoyed this film. I thought that it made a game effort to come up with something different whereby there was a proper balance between the realms of legitimate human drama and the kind of good scary stuff that we all want to get off on. The film’s application was intelligent and it doesn’t talk down to its audience. This is the kind of horror flick that you can watch with someone who doesn’t like horror but they are suckers for films that have a heart. If you come across this one on Netflix give it a watch. It’s worthy of your attention.
This is CHAV, signing off.