Anna-Mark-StrongHollywood is in the business of expectations – creating and controlling them. Studios need to generate enough interest for a film to guarantee ticket sales without overhyping the movie and having it labeled a failure.

Lucky is the moviegoer who can watch a film without any preconceived notions of the product. For those fortunate few who see Anna with low-to-no expectations, the hybrid horror/science fiction/thriller provides an entertaining diversion that benefits from stylish atmosphere and a strong central performance. Director Jorge Dorado uses a steady pace and a few sleight-of-hand tricks to divert the viewer’s attention away from some significant logical gaps in the narrative.

Originally titled “Mindscape,” the film is set in the near future, where memory detectives create mental bonds with victims and criminals and become witnesses to past events. While not carrying the weight of DNA evidence, the testimony of mind detectives has proven to be more reliable than a polygraph. One of the best of the brain dicks, John Washington (Mark Strong), was a star employee at Mindscape, the leading mind detective agency, but memories of his own personal traumas now intrude when he links with clients.

Sebastian (Brian Cox), the head of Mindscape, throws him a bone, a simple case involving a 16-year old named Anna (Taissa Farmiga) who is refusing to eat. Washington is asked to pop in and out of Anna’s subconscious, identify the problem, and then return to his brooding. Washington soon discovers that Anna’s situation is far more complex than originally described. Is she a sociopath or victim? Is she manipulating her memories or has Sebastian set Washington up? Is the stepdad doing the maid, the security guard, Anna, or all of the above?

Strong, who is better known for playing the bad guy in films like Green Lantern and Kick-Ass, turns in an excellent performance. His portrayal of the troubled detective is sober and restrained and quite convincing that he possesses such ability. The filming of the “memory” scenes is also well handled by director Dorado. Farmiga plays a troubled teen here every bit as well as she did in seasons one and three of American Horror Story. The problem is in the script, particularly with the character of Anna. While there is an “Ah ha” moment toward the end of the film that works quite well, it does not answer all the questions or explain the contradictions that accrue in the course of the movie. Nor does it justify a number of brain farts from our mind detective in the course of the investigation.

And the denouement certainly does not clarify the tagline for the film: “Don’t let her in.” Since Anna is being held under lock and key, and it’s the mind detective that enters the memory of the client, it’s not clear what Anna is supposed to be kept out of. Your heart? An Italian courtroom? The Macy’s Memorial Day Sale?

Don’t expect what the poster implies. In fact, don’t expect very much at all, and Anna can prove to be harmless entertainment.

Two stars.

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