03rd Dec2019

‘Marla’ Review

by Alain Elliott

Stars: Lisa van Dam-Bates, Travis Johnny Ware, Katie Hemming, Jason Stange, Palmer Chase | Written and Directed by Lisa van Dam-Bates

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Lisa van Dam-Bates directs and stars in Marla, aka Marla Mae, her first feature film about a woman who gets an IUD implanted by an old friend, only for it to be a much worst idea than she could have ever thought.

Dam-Bates (who also wrote the script) does have a really cool idea here but it doesn’t ever quite reach the heights I hoped. For a debut feature it’s pretty good though and she does well in the lead role. It’s always 50/50 when director place themselves in the lead but here it works out well. She is the best actor in the movie which unfortunately has a couple of amateurish and wooden performance from a couple of cast members. And although the idea is a good one, the script is at times a little all over the place and too many questions going unanswered. I get that giving away or explaining too much isn’t always a good thing but there needs to be some kind of balance.

Marla can definitely be described as a slow-burn of a movie with much of the film being character-driven and when the lead character is on screen it’s decent but some of the other characters are somewhat lacking. I desperately wanted to know more about some of the characters – ‘Doc’ being the obvious one. But Marla and her reactions to what is happening to her are what keeps you watching.

Although this isn’t your typical horror movie it very much fits nicely in the genre. And the moments of gore and indeed that, very gory, with some delightful practical effects. Despite the low budget – the less is more ideology here works well. When the red stuff hits, it really hits and is so much more impactful. It always creates some of the best images in the movie (the final death scene comes to mind), ones that will stick with after those credits roll.

There’s a subtle and mostly simple score that creates an atmosphere at times and is another positive.

The obvious comparison movie here is Teeth (check it out if you haven’t already) but Marla is perhaps a more bleak and brutal version of it. There is a cool, female-fronted story to be told here that feels very relevant. With the Me Too movement and other such cases, there is clearly going to be more and more movies from this kind of perspective and that can only be a good thing. The horror genre in particular always does a great job of reflecting what is happening in the world, as depressing as it might be. And the revenge story here does exactly that.

Unfortunately the ending just brings more questions than answers but this doesn’t ruin the movie altogether. This is a strong first movie (and performance) from the director and I will be very much interested in what she does next.

*** 3/5

Marla is available on DVD and Digital now from High Octane Pictures.

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