Jorge Dorado’s Anna, previously known as Mindscape, has drawn unfavorable comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s Inception, due to the fact that both films involve a man peering inside the minds and memories of others to uncover long-hidden secrets. However, if you’re interested in checking out this thriller, the absolute best thing you could do for yourself would be to get that comparison out of your head. Anna is nowhere near as creative, original or exciting as that now-classic mind-bender. It’s not even on the same level. Instead, Anna is a much smaller-scale affair, content to deliver passable thrills and predictable twists while giving its two leads, Mark Strong and Taissa Farmiga, plenty of time to shine.
If that sounds like a critique, it is and it isn’t (cue Inception foghorn). Though Anna doesn’t bring much of anything to the table – and many will fault it for that, given its promising set-up – it’s still a relatively fun watch. Whether you like Anna depends on what you expect from it. This isn’t a thriller that’s trying to do anything out of the ordinary. The film is content to rely on genre trappings and faux-intellectual dialogue in order to craft a compelling narrative. Accept that, and you’ll enjoy yourself.
Anna opens on a strong note, as John (Strong), a “memory detective” who solves crimes by piecing together victims’ memories, bears witness to a break-in and attempted sexual assault. At first, we’re placed squarely in the victim’s mind, and the situation plays out like a conventional thriller sequence, but then Dorado pans out and we realize that there’s another observer like us, watching events unfold. It’s a neat trick, aided by Oscar Faura’s eerie cinematography. Turns out, though, John isn’t the best memory detective out there. Instead, visions of his wife’s death, triggered by images of water, prevent him from being able to act as a silent bystander.
As such, John takes a leave of absence – that is, until his financial burdens force him back into the game. The case that his boss Sebastian (Brian Cox) assigns him to is that of Anna Greene (Farmiga), a troubled young prodigy on a hunger strike and destined for institutionalization. John’s task? To determine whether Anna is suffering the invisible wounds of some past trauma, or whether she’s actually a ruthless sociopath manipulating all of them.
Guy Holmes’ script has stiff moments and quite a few holes, mostly around John’s characterization, but it does achieve an agreeable slow-burn effect that pairs well with the dark, moody subject matter. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sustain that momentum, and the film’s last 15 minutes are marred by a rushed twist and lack of resolution. Inquisitive viewers will be left scratching their heads at some revelations. For most of its brisk 99-minute runtime, however, Anna is a compelling watch.
The biggest thing that Anna has going for it is Farmiga, by a long stretch. The actress, already appreciated by younger audiences thanks to her roles in American Horror Story and The Bling Ring, is given one hell of a role in the title character, who is both unnervingly intelligent and stealthily malignant. Farmiga’s measured delivery and emotive features are used to superb effect; simply put, Anna wouldn’t work without an actress of her obvious talents. She plays a worryingly convincing psycho, reminiscent of a blend between Orphan‘s Esther and The Silence of the Lambs‘ Hannibal Lecter. One scene, a flashback to Anna’s years at an all-girls boarding school, should ensure that Farmiga is tapped by studio execs to play the “demon child” for years to come.
Strong also does fine work in the role of John, bringing the same grim intensity to the character that he previously brought to his roles in Sherlock Holmes and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Strong’s efforts are undercut somewhat by the screenplay, which gives short shrift to his tragic backstory and undercooks a romance with Judith (Indira Varma), a woman charged with monitoring Anna, but the actor’s ability to sell the nuttiest of lines is remarkable.
Making just as large an impression as Farmiga and Strong is cinematographer Faura, who conjures up some terribly creepy and evocative shots throughout the film. He’s aided by the Greenes’ spooky estate, nearly a character in of itself, and clearly revels in Gothic imagery. Some of the symbolism edges into heavy-handed territory, but that’s a minor quibble easily forgiven when considering how impressive Faura’s work here is as a whole.
As appears to be the way with most psychological thrillers these days, Anna‘s plot begins to give way under closer analysis, but attempting to poke holes in its backwards logic is almost defeating the purpose. Anna succeeded in creeping me out. And watching Farmiga and Strong, two skilled actors when viewed individually, achieve a thrilling chemistry is an unadulterated pleasure. The same can’t exactly be said of Anna as a whole – this thriller definitely has its flaws. But forgive the film its trespasses, and you’ll be rewarded with a terrific, terrifying performance from Farmiga, and a solid way to spend 99 minutes.
Taissa Farmiga gives a spectacular, spine-tingling performance in Anna, and that should be more than enough for viewers to look past this thriller's weaknesses.