BBFC Classification: 18
Director: Åke Gustafsson, Fredrik Hedberg, Jacob Kondrup
Starring: Angelica Jansson, Cecilia Samuelsson, Emelie Frantz Nilsson, Martin Brandt, Philip Hansell
In Mara, Jenny (Angelica Jansson) is a young woman with a troubled past involving her mentally ill mother who murdered her adulterous father by stabbing him dozens of times in front of the young girl. Now grown up Jenny has returned to her former home with a group of friends as part of her therapy to try and process what happened, but it turns out that the group aren’t alone as an intruder turns up to crash the party at the isolated house in the woods…
Which is a variant on a plot that has been done many times over, although when a familiar story is told in a different language or in a foreign setting it can add a new twist to what we expect. Does Mara manage this? Not especially, although it does try and that, if little else, is to be commended.
There are two main problems with Mara – the script and the delivery of it. It may be partly a translation issue but the dialogue in the film is very stilted and delivered by amateur actors who really don’t know how to create any sort of tension or emotion in their performance. Playboy model Angelica Jansson is by far the best performer here and spends a great deal of screen time having to react to the things that are happening around her, which she does well enough. By contrast, Emelie Frantz Nilsson as Stina, one of the group, is terrible and seems to suck all of the atmosphere out of any scene she’s in.
But Mara fares better in other areas. Almost immediately directors Åke Gustafsson, Fredrik Hedberg and Jacob Kondrup give the impression they are aiming higher than your average low-budget exploitation shocker with a heavy arthouse vibe and some flashy camera work, which shows that they’re at least trying. The film is deliberately slow, as if the makers were trying to go for a giallo style of pacing, and when the shocks come they are fairly effective and offer up some creepy imagery.
Given a bigger budget, better developed script and stronger actors then Mara could have been another Swedish horror film that could appeal to more than just a Euro-festival crowd, but despite the best efforts of the filmmakers it feels too underdeveloped. It is only 77 minutes long and despite being a slow-burner it doesn’t drag, ending just before it starts to feel padded, but the Swedish folklore that it tries to inject at the end could have been mentioned a little earlier, if only to make the climax a little bit more satisfying. Overall, it’s a bold effort but Mara is lacking in the main areas that low-budget horror movies need to get right if they want to make any impact.
Special Features: Feature length ‘Behind the Scenes’ documentary, casting featurette, interview with star Angelica Jansson, reversible sleeve incorporating original artwork.
UK Release Date: 13th January 2014