Every year, Hollywood churns out a handful of supernatural thrillers about precocious, haunted children who may or may not be homicidal, and the mind games they play on adult psychologists, detectives, and the like.
The suspense in these films lies in whether these supposed juvenile offenders are victims of parental or institutional abuse, innately insane, or just gifted at making outlandish shit up. The audience’s only clues in solving this dilemma tend to be muddled, flashy, echoey, clanging flashbacks, which abruptly end just when they’re starting to make sense.
The films’ success depends on you caring about these smart-alecky, never particularly likable little prodigies. So it’s not high praise to say that Anna, the debut film of Jorge Dorado, is a slightly above-average thriller that, to its detriment, shares all these cloying traits with its lesser ilk.
You can almost smell the dust on the screenplay, and the scare tactics — doors closing by themselves, mumbled surveillance video testimonies played in reverse, creepy self-portraits that seem to be drawn in blood — are more precious and irksome than frightening.
But Taissa Farmiga (sister of Vera) is a marvel in the title role; unlike, say, Haley Joel Osment’s character in The Sixth Sense, this troubled kid makes fun of her otherworldly ways, and she plays nicely off Mark Strong’s weary-eyed investigator, a widower who can enter his subjects’ memories. Such mind-bending experiences leave him with terrible migraines, and neither he nor his superior (a sleepwalking Brian Cox) can fathom the inconsistencies in Anna’s flashbacks. Dorado proves nimble at chase scenes, and the ending is immensely satisfying: not impossible to predict, per se, but probably the third or fourth possible outcome you imagined.