Tapping Into Primordial Fear, MARA Succeeds In Scares

As a constant consumer of horror, there isn’t much out there that still scares me, but there is one well known, real life phenomenon that does send shivers down my spine: sleep paralysis. Clive Tonge’s debut feature Mara explores one of the numerous myths associated with the disorder.

Sleep paralysis is best described as an awareness but inability to move during waking or falling asleep. For some, this is as far as the symptoms go, in other cases, sleep paralysis is accompanied by Hypnagogia or hypnagogic hallucinations. Hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations are visual, tactile, auditory, or other sensory events, that occur during the transition from wakefulness to sleep (hypnagogic) or from sleep to wakefulness (hypnopompic). Over the years, various cultures have come up with their own explanations for the phenomenon. According to one version of ancient folklore, it was believed that a sleep demon (mare, mara, mære), said to take the shape of a woman or an “old hag”, would visit sleeping victims and sit on their chests, inhibiting the victim from breathing, moving, or speaking. Other versions of the folklore include shadow people, witches, and aliens.

In Mara, “Criminal psychologist Kate Fuller (Olga Kurylenko; Quantum of Solace, Oblivion) 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.”

 The title character is played by none other than professional monster man, Javier Botet (Mama, Slender Man, It), who perfectly portrays the terrifying Mara with his tall, slender frame and jerky, twitching movements. Mitch Eakins, Lance E. Nichols, Rosie Fellner, and Mackenzie Imsand also star in Clive Tonge’s first film. Tonge has previously worked on a variety of projects including film shorts, music videos, and documentaries. Tonge has always maintained a love for horror and fairytales, both clearly evident in Mara, which does embody the feeling of an adult fairytale.

The film’s score, composed by James Edward Barker (Don’t Knock Twice, Precious Cargo), and sound design (Rusty Dunn) both effectively add to the spookiness of the film. Watching the film with headphones on, the sound design provided what I can only describe as the spookiest version of ASMR; very crisp, clear sounds of Mara’s infrastructure snapping and cracking with her every movement, and her weight causing the floor or furniture below her to creak and moan - the perfect sound effects to accompany nightmares.

Fortunately, sleep paralysis remains an enigma to me because I have yet to be afflicted by it (fingers crossed I never am), but I remain fascinated with the concept and am always genuinely terrified by films on the subject, first-hand stories, and the myths that are associated with it. Mara successfully spooked me and fed my fascination with sleep paralysis and felt like it would pair well with The Nightmare for a nightmarish double feature night.

Mara will be released in limited theatres and on VOD and digital HD on September 7, 2018.

ReviewMegan CasadyMara