Review: MARLA (2018)

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Filmed in 2015 as Marla Mae, I’m surprised this film took so long to get released. It was making headlines right from the day production ended. Of course, that was due to Jason Stange who plays Dr. Lourdes turning out to be a bank robber who’d escaped from prison the year before. But any publicity is good publicity, right?

Instead, it vanished back into obscurity and has only recently re-emerged to play a few festivals last year. A quick look at the film’s Facebook page seems to put the delay on a very lengthy post-production process. Is writer/director/star Lisa van Dam-Bates’ film worth the wait?

Marla (Lisa van Dam-Bates) is a waitress at a local bar. She’s dating the bartender Jake (Travis Johnny Ware) and generally enjoying life. There’s just one thing, she would love to get an IUD, but the budget only goes so far. Enter childhood friend turned gynecologist Dr. Lourdes (Jason Stange). He offers her one for free and who can resist an offer like that? As a bonus, she meets Jules (Katie Hemming) at the clinic and the two become BFFs almost immediately.

However, things are about to take a turn for the worse. The first time Marla and Jake try her new IUD he begins coughing up blood and ends up very messily dead. The police find this distinctly odd. Then the serial rapist/murder that has been terrorizing the area attackers her, only to meet a similarly bloody end. Seeing a connection she asks Dr. Lourdes to remove the IUD which he refuses. Marla and Jules begin to investigate the doctor as the police focus on them. Both may find out more than they wanted to know.

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Marla has an interesting concept, kind of like a nastier take on Teeth. Or the old Eddie Murphy joke about STDs, “What next? You just stick your dick in and it explodes?” There’s the seed of a solid piece of body horror here. Think Rabid meets Dead Ringers. Unfortunately, it’s hurt by a script that drags at times and some truly awful acting, a horrible combination.

Now I get that Marla was a very low budget film so it couldn’t be wall to wall action and effects. And we do get some good effects. But the dialogue should have been a lot better. Much of the time between the two attacks is filled with a heavily medicated Marla mumbling about how awful she feels.

Lisa Van Dam-Bates is fairly good in the title role, one that requires her to spend a fair amount of time naked and covered in blood. Co-star Hemming, however, is awful. With a flat delivery and responding to anything that requires her to show concern by squinting and having a cigarette. It’s the kind of performance that sucks the life out of a film.

And that’s a shame. Because there was obviously a lot of effort and devotion put into Marla. And the script does have a few neat twists. But its flaws keep it from being anything more than average.

High Octane Pictures will release Marla and on digital and DVD on November 5th. Which is the same day they release Blood Myth.

Jim Morazzini

Movie buff, gym rat and crazy cat guy

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