Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"With strong performances all round and gorgeous cinematography by Óscar Faura, it's a powerful piece of work."

Marketed early on as horror and picked up by Frightfest, Anna (previously known as Mindscape) is really one of those genre-fluid films that's about something else altogether. It has something of the character of a Philip K Dick story, tinged with the cynical romance of Cracks, and it's as devious as either, laying its cards on the table early but keeping viewers guessing right up to the end. There are elements of noir and the whole takes form as a tightly constructed thriller. With strong performances all round and gorgeous cinematography by Óscar Faura, it's a powerful piece of work.

The eponymous Anna is a 16 year old girl kept as a virtual prisoner in the home of her wealthy family. She has a history of cutting herself and there are other, darker secrets in her past. Now she's stopped eating. John Washington, a forensic detective who specialises in forming a mental connection with people to retrieve their memories, is called in in a last ditch effort to understand and resolve her problems so she doesn't have to be hospitalised. Initially reluctant to engage, she goes on to tell him he's cute. But is she a victim who needs his help or is she dangerous?

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"I'm not a sociopath," she tells him, "But I'm smart enough to know how to act like one."

Perhaps she's telling the truth.

It's a set-up which, in lesser hands, could easily have subsided into cliché. That it doesn't is due partly to the strong script and partly to Taissa Farmiga's refreshingly natural performance as the troubled teenager, which has none of the gloss or smarminess we've come to associate with pointedly intelligent characters of this sort. In a way it recalls Brian Cox's Hannibal Lecktor, and Cox himself is perfect in support, with the film exploiting his history of playing dark, complex characters for one of its several well-judged twists. Mark Strong, meanwhile, is perfect as the everyman caught up in others' machinations whilst wrestling with issues of his own. Anna draws roses from memory; like the subject of John William Waterhouse's My Sweet Rose, she is enclosed but acutely aware of the world.

This is not a film without flaws. The resolution of a minor plot strand at the end feels tacked-on and detracts somewhat from what has gone before. The otherwise assured direction occasionally stumbles, with pacing sacrificed for the sake of an unnecessary, though understandably appealing shot. Some viewers will undoubtedly be put off by the science fiction element of the premise, though they shouldn't be, because it's really just a device for adding visual depth to a story that would still be solid without it. This is a film that deserves to have viewers take a chance.

Reviewed on: 29 May 2014
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A forensic psychologist is faced with a young woman who may be a victim or a psychopath.
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Director: Jorge Dorado

Writer: Guy Holmes

Starring: Mark Strong, Taissa Farmiga, Brian Cox

Year: 2013

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US, Spain


Glasgow 2014

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