Most of Judge Daryl Loomis' memories involve eating pizza.
Don't let her in.
Back in the '90s, after the lurid success of Poison Ivy, it seemed like every thriller had to be about an innocent man (often a dad) being seduced by a wicked usurper, bent on destroying his family. Once in a while, these harpies were age-appropriate, like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, but much more often, these were young girls with sexual knowledge beyond their years. Think 1993's The Crush, 1994's The Color of Night or 1998's Wicked and Devil in the Flesh. They were everywhere, the whole decade long, but eventually petered out, which is good, because very few were any good. So, when I received Anna for review, I wasn't too excited to see it, given the description makes it sound exactly the same. Yes, there are definitely similarities between this and those '90s thrillers, but there are things about it that not only make it better than they were, but actually a pretty good little movie.
John (Mark Strong, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) is something known as a Memory Detective, somebody with the power to enter and view other people's memories. John's the best, but after the death of his wife, he hasn't been able to perform like he once could. But his psychologist friend, Sebastian (Brian Cox, Braveheart), gives him a job that should be easy: figure out why 16-year-old Anna (Taissa Farmiga, American Horror Story) refuses to eat. Upon meeting, the two hit it off pretty well and Anna is open to John entering her mind, but the memories she reveals tells John there is something much more dangerous going on with her.
I don't actually know if director Jorge Dorado, in his feature debut, had intended on emulating those prurient jailbait stories of two decades ago, but Anna sure smacks of their lurid stink. It asks the same questions: Is she crazy or is somebody out to get her? It the guy some perv or is she instigating things? A little of both? At least they don't do the angle where the guy gets a new lover and the girl gets revenge (my favorite is in The Crush, where Alicia Silverstone's character instigates a bee attack…Jennifer Rubin's character was allergic to bees, you see). The point is that in almost every way, it looks like it's going to be more of that trash.
But it isn't. Anna, for all its trappings, is a reasonably well-crafted little thriller. Don't ask me what the deal is with the "mind detective" business, because I have no idea where that came from, but it's the story's way into credibility and it actually works. It's the only believable way into her head, taking away the absurd notion of her manipulating him verbally and, instead, making him (and us) see things for himself.
The reality, though, is that the story doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and the real reason that it works is because of the pair of lead performances. Mark Strong is sympathetic and fairly compelling as the lead. As importantly, he never comes off as a creep like the Tom Skerritts in earlier movies. But it's really Taissa Farmiga who makes it work. She's shown good work on American Horror Story already and she shines here. Her performance is good enough to make it believable that she could be either the gifted but misunderstood young girl or the insane and manipulative seductress. They play off each other really well and Dorado never goes too far with the sexy stuff. There a little here and there, but she's the instigator and he rebuffs her the whole time.
It doesn't seem like it would all come together, but between the solid performances and a solid story that doesn't seem like it would have a chance of working, Anna is a fast-paced and intriguing psychological thriller that I could easily watch again.
The DVD for Anna from Vertical is perfectly acceptable, but nothing particularly special. The 2.35:1 anamorphic image looks good in general, with decent detail for standard-def and relatively deep black levels. Of note is how vivid and full the heavily used reds are in the image, without a hint of bleeding at any point. The Dolby 5.1 mix is pretty strong as well, with some decent atmosphere in the surround channels and a good overall soundscape. The only extra is a trailer.
Anna isn't setting the world on fire, but strong performances and novel twist on its well-worn story make it a cut above most similar thrillers. There's some rewatchability in the memory sequences, it would seem, and it's a movie I can easily recommend to genre fans.
Surprisingly not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vertical Entertainment
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