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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 06.04.14] thriller

Generally speaking, thriller/horror movies centered on kids usually prescribe to the idea that the kid is either possessed by demons or is the devil reborn and everything about the marketing for Jorge Dorado's English language debut screams typical but truth is that Anna refuses to fit into the mold.

Written by Guy and Martha Holmes, Anna stars Taissa Farmiga as the titular character, a troubled teenage girl whose parents are preparing to institutionalize her because of her erratic behaviour. As a last ditch effort to avoid locking up her daughter in the loony bin, Michelle (Saskia Reeves) hires a new breed of help: mind detectives, individuals with heightened ESP abilities who, with a bit of help, can enter individual's minds and sift through their memories.

John (Mark Strong), a once great mind detective, has been plagued by personal demons but due to financial duress, he's forced to return to work before he feels completely ready. The company boss (a small role dominated by the great Brian Cox) convinces him that this job of treating Anna will be quick and easy but as is usually the case, this turns out yo be furthest from the truth.

Anna is better than a majority of its counterparts for a number of reasons, namely the performances. Strong is a formidable talent but the young Farmiga, who has previously shown some budding talent, more than stands her own opposite him. The pair play well off of each other but Farmiga is particularly memorable. Her role is understated and the performance played very small in comparison to Strong whose character who has far wider emotional spread, but it's her quiet approach that makes her so impressive; a piercing look and a small smile are amazingly effective.

Beyond the performances there's also the fact that Anna plays the story so effectively that the true motive of the characters aren't apparent until very late in the movie. While some scripts and directors would pepper the movie with heavy handed hints at the underlying story, Dorado takes the audience along on one story, develops a second simultaneously and when the reveal happens in the final act, I was surprised I didn't see it coming. It's effective because the Holmes' script doesn't present red herrings that lead no where. Each new discovery plays an important role in Anna's recovery and John follows up on each one and there's a real sense that he is helping the troubled teen.

My one minor quip is that Anna eventually falls into the flashback explanation that so many movies resort to in an effort to explain what's happened (for those who weren't paying attention). These explanations always feel condescending of the audience but in this case, it's not quite so egregious considering how well the audience is played.

Anna is a pleasant surprise, a movie that plays in a familiar playground but brings some new toys to the party. Add in a batch of great performances and a script that is far cleverer than many of its counterparts and you've got an entertaining thriller to keep you busy Saturday night.

Anna is currently available on VOD and opens theatrically on Friday, June 6.

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