PLOT: A psychic enters the mind of a troubled 16-year-old girl in order to figure out if she's a sociopath or the victim of a series of predatory abusers.
REVIEW: Two magnetic actors slightly elevate an otherwise very ordinary thriller in Jorge Dorado's feature debut, ANNA. And though the presences of Mark Strong and Taissa Farmiga give ANNA a boost, the film is ultimately undermined by predictable plotting and a handful of "twists" that don't surprise nearly as much as the movie would like them to.
Mark Strong, playing against type here in that he's actually cast as a good guy, is psychic John Washington, a "memory detective" who has the ability to enter people's memories in order to help them sort out events they have little memory or understanding of. You see, in this film's world, psychics are actually not uncommonly used to help the police in building cases. John's own world is a bit in shambles since the death of his wife, and though the memory of finding her corpse is conflicintg with work, he attempts to get back on the horse with what appears to be a simple case. HIs subject is Anna (Farmiga), a rich girl who's gone on a hunger strike at her family's grand estate for mysterious reasons. Anna is kept under surveillance by her worried mom (Saskia Reeves) and smug step-father (Richard Dillane), the latter just aching to send her off to an asylum, as the girl has always been quite a bit "off."
Naturally, Anna's case is not so simply broken open, and Washington soon finds himself slightly obsessed with the teenager, who appears alternately crafty and vulnerable. Entering her memories, he finds a girl rife with issues, from a troubled boarding school experience to suspicious interactions with her parents. Soon enough, he's seeing Anna everywhere, along with a shadowy figure he believes is following him. Is Anna manipulating her own memories to lead him astray? If so, to what purpose?
Dorado has a good eye and he and cinematographer Oscar Faura (who also shot THE ORPHANAGE) craft plenty of striking images. Perhaps their best asset are the faces of Strong and Farmiga; the former's masculine, intense face well contrasted by the latter's unusually doll-like features. Indeed, the film is at its best when it's just the two of them conversing and matching wits. The film works hard to establish a borderline creepy relationship between the two, as the girl flirts subtly with the older man, who obviously has a lurking affection for the teen. (It's an interesting coincidence that his dead wife's name was also named Anna.)
But screenwriter Guy Holmes plots the story very conventionally, crippling any tension built by the central relationship. Strangely, the trips into Anna's mind prove to be none too exciting, fairly bland flashbacks involving fights with classmates and an inappropriate fling with a teacher. Washington's investigation takes him through a series of false leads and red herrings (every supporting character gets a chance to look guilty of something or other), and by the time we arrive at the truth of the matter, we're hardly surprised at the revelations. ANNA often plays like the pilot episode of a television show, and we fully expect to see what tough nut Washington will have to crack next week.
It's too bad ANNA ends up being so average, since it'd be a real treat to watch Strong and Farmiga engage in their head games in a better movie. As it is, their persuasive performances make Dorado's picture a watchable but unremarkable by-the-book thriller.