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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [May 18, 2020]






[]  Marla Mae (Lisa van Dam-Bates) is a waitress at The Valley bar in Olympia. One day, Dr. Lourdes (Jason Stang) offers to fit Marla with an IUD, free of charge. A favor, because they were childhood friends. Marla's boyfriend, Jake (Travis Johnny Ware), thinks it's a weird kind of favor. Marla dismisses his concerns as jealousy.

Jake was right to be concerned. When Marla later straddles Jason for a night of passionate love, he begins spitting blood. Then his body ... disintegrates, right below the waist. No more Jake between Marla's thighs. Just the bed sheet soaked with dark blood and chunks of ... meat? Jake -- or rather, his remaining upper half -- is dead.

Marla is freaked. She has no idea what happened or why. Like many horror protagonists, she is slow to make logical connections. No light bulb moment, as in "Sex was normal until I had the IUD, so maybe the IUD is the problem." Even after the second incident, when a rapist disintegrates completely between her legs, Marla still thinks that she is the problem. "There's something wrong with me, and this IUD is making it worse."

Huh? Making what worse? It's not like men were disintegrating just a little bit before she had the IUD.

Marla Mae (aka Marla) can be filed under both body horror and erotic horror (subcategory: vagina horror, e.g., Teeth, Angst, and Grim Prairie Tales). Marla hates her new body. She doesn't want to be a freak, or be responsible for murder. In the end, as in many horror films, Marla confronts the mad doctor who made her what she is ...

Lisa van Dam-Bates offers a compelling performance as Marla Mae. Which is especially impressive, as van Dam-Bates also wrote and directed this, her first feature film. Even skilled actors often fall short when directing themselves, but van Dam-Bates does a fine job on both sides of the camera. Under her direction, the rest of the cast range from fair to good. Scenes are well paced, the performances neither rushed nor sluggish, the dialog sparse and naturalistic. Overall, Marla Mae conveys the moody, contemplative tone of It Follows.

From the start, Dr. Lourdes comes across as creepy. I don't know how intentional that is. His missing front tooth and unshaven face don't inspire confidence. Two of Marla's friends call him "weird," which Marla acknowledges, though she continues to defend him.



Marla Mae was filmed in the gritty, blue collar areas of Olympia, Washington. I didn't know Olympia had grit. I always thought of it as a quaint, bucolic college town. In any event, the locations in the film are an effective backdrop for the story. This isn't a romcom, after all.

The ending is puzzling and ambiguous. Marla goes to have the IUD removed, and is told there is nothing in her. What happened? Did her body absorb the IUD? (Hence, her unwittingly insightful remark that there was something wrong with her.) Or was it all the imaginings of a mad woman locked away for murder? The notion that an IUD can cause entire bodies to disintegrate is pretty insane.


I suppose there's a theme buried in this film. Something relating to uniquely female fears. I won't try to figure it out. Some reviews have complained about Marla Mae's unanswered questions, but perhaps the film is meant to be taken symbolically rather than literally.

I'm not bothered that I don't entirely "get" Marla Mae, at least not yet. It was a while before I "got" Mulholland Drive. Marla Mae is a well crafted film, thought provoking and entertaining, with an engaging lead character. It's worth a look.

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