I just finished watching Anna, a Spanish thriller that was briefly given an American release way back in June. Anna (which was produced under the title Mindscape) got fairly bad reviews, with many critics dismissing it as being a weak imitation of Inception.
Having now seen the film, I can say that, once again, the critics were wrong.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s obvious that without Inception, there never would have been an Anna. But, as any fan of old school Italian horror can tell you, imitation is not necessarily a bad thing. Anna may start out as a low-budget take on Inception but, by the end of the film, it has established its own unique identity.
Anna tells the story of John (Mark Strong), a “memory detective.” John has the power to enter into people’s memories, where he can search for clues to help people deal with psychological trauma and to occasionally help the police solve crimes. At the start of the film, John is recovering from a trauma of his own. After their son dies, his wife — who is also a memory detective — retreats so deeply into her memories that she can’t come back. (Yes, I know. It’s exactly like Inception. Just be patient…) While exploring the memories of an assault victim, John’s own memories start to intrude on the victim’s memories, leading to John having a stroke.
After John recovers from the stroke, he finds himself both financially destitute and emotionally unstable. His boss (Brian Cox) takes sympathy on John and assigns him to what should be an easy case. 16 year-old Anna (Taissa Farmiga) is refusing to eat and her extremely wealthy parents want to know why.
John meets Anna and discovers that she’s a sarcastic, intelligent, and withdrawn teenager. When John enters into her mind, he discovers memories of neglect and abuse. The night after John first enters Anna’s memories, her nurse is pushed down a flight of stairs. The nurse claims that Anna pushed her while Anna swears that she’s being framed. Anna’s parents, meanwhile, have signed papers to have her committed, giving John just a few days to determine what’s behind Anna’s behavior.
Convinced that she’s innocent, John enters into Anna’s memories and searches for clues that will answer the question of whether Anna is a victim or a sociopath. As he does so, he finds more and more evidence that Anna was abused. However, he also starts to discover hints that there may be more to Anna’s memories than he originally realized.
Anna is a good and entertaining mystery of a film, one that takes its time telling its multi-layered story. Jorge Dorado makes his directorial debut with Anna and he wisely emphasizes characterization and atmosphere above all else. There’s a dream-like sense of menace that fills every frame of the film, casting a palpable feeling of unease over both John and the audience. As a result of his work here, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what Dorado does in the future.
Mark Strong is a talented and intelligent actor who has gotten typecast as a villain. As such, it’s nice to see him actually get a chance to be the star for once. Strong gives a sympathetic performance while adding just enough instability that the audience is never totally at ease with John. The same can also be said of Taissa Farmiga, who gives a wonderfully ambiguous performance that makes Anna both innocent and destructive at the same time. Anna keeps both John and the audience guessing until the very end of the film.
Anna is currently making the rounds on cable. I would recommend keeping an eye out for it.