Review: Sleep paralysis thriller ‘Mara’ is slow to wake but chills in the end

Olga Kuryleno in the movie "Mara."
(Saban Films)

Filmmaker Rodney Ascher recently terrified audiences with his documentary “The Nightmare,” dramatizing the disturbing hallucinations some experience while in the grip of the phenomenon known as “sleep paralysis.” Now director Clive Tonge and screenwriter Jonathan Frank have converted that concept into straight horror in “Mara,” a poky thriller that — eventually — delivers some decent scares.

Olga Kurylenko stars as Dr. Kate Fuller, a psychologist consulting with the police on a baffling case, in which a dead man’s wife insists her husband was killed by a demon from folklore: a “night hag” named Mara, who sits on her victims’ chests until they asphyxiate.

As Fuller investigates, she’s drawn into the subculture of people who’ve been haunted by this beast. Soon, the doc herself is feeling what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night, conscious but paralyzed, as a spindly shadow creeps toward her.

“Mara” is overly stiff in the early going, playing a lot like a stodgy, low-budget police procedural. Once the heroine loses her skepticism though, the movie becomes more intense. The scenes with Mara herself are genuinely unsettling — not just because the creature effects are good, but because of the way this monster drives people to madness. Viewers who stick around to the end, perhaps because they’re unable to move, may find this film sneaks up on them.




Rated: R, for disturbing violent images and language

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, AMC Universal CityWalk 19