A woman alone at home hears a noise in the other room and goes to investigate. She finds a window open that she thought she had closed and soon discovers why – an intruder is in the house and armed with a knife and malicious intent. But as she’s races in fear from one room to the next another man becomes visible to us while she runs right past him. What the what?
John Washington (Mark Strong) is a memory detective. With a combination of hand-holding and a little bit of coaxing he can enter a person’s memories, whether they be formative or traumatic, and while he can’t interact with them his observations reveal information that can be used later in therapy or criminal trials. It’s a good gig if you can get it, but John is forced onto sabbatical after his latest trip down someone else’s memory lane finds his own recollections leaking in resulting in him having a seizure. He returns after a months-long sabbatical to take on the case of a potentially disturbed teenage girl named Anna (Taissa Farmiga).
He probably should have taken a longer sabbatical.
“I’m not a sociopath. Just smart enough to think like one.”
Mindscape is an organization founded on psychic research pioneered in the ’70s by the U.S. government, and while it doesn’t carry as much weight in court as eye-witness testimony (historically the least reliable form of evidence) it’s still used as a valuable tool in discovering the truths buried in people’s subconscious minds. Memory’s can lie though, so it’s far from an exact science. John’s seizure is triggered by memory’s of finding his own wife dead from suicide, but months later he’s broke and desperate to get back in the game so when his boss Sebastian (Brian Cox) offers him Anna’s case he jumps at the chance. But Anna is no typical client (or teenager for that matter) and soon John’s caught up in mind games well outside his expertise.
What follows in Jorge Dorado’s film is a cat and mouse game where it’s unclear who’s the cat and who’s the mouse. Is Anna the victim or the aggressor? Maybe she’s both? Like a less fantastical and more somber Dreamscape, the film moves between the real world and the imagined one in an increasing manner, but things grow confusing as the illusory nature of events move beyond the memories. John begins seeing things that can in no way be real, and the resolution for those visions ultimately feels incomplete.
In fact, it’s the film’s resolution in general that sinks an otherwise interesting premise. The two players are set up well, each with their own baggage and mystery, but their journey together ultimately heads in a most unsatisfying and fairly ridiculous direction. It’s possible screenwriter Guy Holmes simply felt too strongly for his characters, and they are intriguing early on, but his obvious affection for the Hannibal/Clarice model is allowed to damage the experience here.
The other big issue beyond the narrative is the film’s excessive use of ADR and voice-over. There’s a steady torrent of expository information that makes it feel like the filmmakers decided (or were told by test audiences/producers) after the fact that far more needed explaining. Don’t get me wrong, some of it is necessary, but much of it feels like filler.
The bright side of Anna is its two leads. Strong rarely gets the chance to play a “good” guy, Low Winter Sun notwithstanding, and he makes for a compelling presence selling both the emotion and the intensity. Farmiga meanwhile has been a familiar face in smaller roles over the past few years, but the decision to give her something meatier pays off with a performance that keeps viewers guessing far more than the script does.
Anna is an easy watch and probably worth it for fans of Strong and Farmiga, but don’t expect it to stick around in your memory for long afterwards.
The Upside: Mark Strong and Taissa Farmiga; interesting premise
The Downside: Excessive expository ADR; fairly pointless; sloppy third act; unsuccessful ending
On the Side: Vera Farmiga is Taissa’s older sister, and not her mother which some people may have mistakenly believed…