** (out of 5)
June 6, 2014
Taissa Farmiga as ANNA
Mark Strong as JOHN
Indira Varma as JUDITH
Brian Cox as SEBASTIAN
Noah Taylor as PETER LUNDGREN
Studio: Vertical Entertainment
Directed by: Jorge Dorado
BY KEVIN CARR
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There are some movies that are made for theaters, and there are some that are made for home viewing. “Anna” (which was originally released with the more intriguing but less relevant title “Mindscape”) is one of those films that works better upon home viewing.
And that’s a good thing, considering it’s available on video-on-demand while it’s in limited release in theaters. I’d recommend checking this movie out in the comfort of your own living room. It plays well for a rainy Saturday afternoon.
“Anna” is a thriller that stars Mark Strong as John, a remote viewer who uses his powers to help crime victims remember what happened when the crime was committed. He is sent to the home of a disturbed teenager named Anna (Taissa Farmiga), who is suspected of poisoning girls in her class. Anna also won’t eat, and it’s also John’s challenge to get her to eat while he discovers the truth behind her actions.
There’s a part of me that wonders if “Anna” was written a decade or two ago and sat around. Not only does it feel a bit amateurish compared to the recent films that director Jorge Dorado delivered with “Non-Stop” and even “Orphan,” but the subject matter seems more steeped in the 90s than in the 21st century.
In particular, the idea of remote viewing went out of style when Art Bell publicized the remote viewing of comet Hale-Bopp, which some speculate led to the mass suicide in the Heaven’s Gate cult in 1997. That was a devastating blow to remote viewing, even though it didn’t directly lead to the suicide of some obviously mentally unsound people. Still, these events tarnished the concept of remote viewing and made it even more fringe than the fringe science it inhabited.
With all that said, the pseudoscience around which this is based isn’t really remote viewing, which is leaving your body to view something in real-time at a different physical location. Yeah, that’s semantics, but it bothers me, and this is why I wonder if the remote viewing angle was a remnant of a bygone script from the 90s.
Still, “Anna” has a certain degree of punch to it. Framed as a psychological thriller, the acting is decent, and there are some genuinely creepy moments. The film is shot as a horror story, and while it never really settles into that distinction throughout the movie, the elements are there. As a fan of the genre, I appreciate the flattery, but it might have been better to be delivered as a straightforward crime thriller. Even with the supernatural element, this would have felt more at home.
The problem is that the story tends to turn in on itself at times, making it hard to follow and using the remote viewing and psychic aspect as a patch to make a less-than-compelling narrative more interesting. The film also uses dream logic that seems more at home in “Suspira” and “Phantasm,” when the framework of a disturbed and potentially psychotic individual is actually more chilling because it’s more realistic. “Anna” plays with horror conventions but never really gets to the point of delivering real shocks.