Ben Cross and Glenne Headly star as the parents of troubled 11 year old Anna (Charlotte Burke) in this nightmarish fantasy thriller. Anna's disturbing adventures begin when a house she sketched on paper eerily comes to life in a recurring dream. Bedridden with a fever, the imaginative and lonely child becomes obsessed with her drawing when she discovers that she can manipulate the course of her dreams by adding to her picture. As Anna deliriously plunges deeper and deeper into her fantasy world, she becomes convinced that her drawings have begun to control and perhaps destroy her life. Her fever escalates, and the thin line between real and imagined blurs until Anna becomes trapped in a terror-filled nightmare, fearful that she won't escape alive.
‘This looks like a really skill place to play hide and seek,’ says our heroine about a deserted railway station at one point. Why don’t people talk like that anymore?
Troubled youngster Anna Madden (Charlotte Burke) is suffering from persecution at school, feinting fits and a mother who displays some of the most stilted acting in the film. Anna has glandular fever, and miserable and bedridden, she hears from the doctor about another of her patients, a little boy. Bored, she draws the boy inside a house – a picture that, try as she might, she cannot erase. Her addled mind appears to bring the house into reality through her dreams, and there she meets the boy, Mark (Elliot Spears), whose similarities with the doctor’s other patient indicate that the dreams of the two children might be shared.
Anna’s dad (Ben Cross) works away a lot, and this puts a strain on the family. In her dreams, he is a frightening ogre, a scribbled picture (again, one she cannot erase) come nightmarishly true. This leads to many frightening images that blur between reality and dreams.
Anna is by turns precocious and affable. Occasionally, her irrational behaviour lapses into juvenile whining (never more so than at the protracted finale, which is otherwise very effective), but Burke never gets as annoying as many more ‘saccharin’ young leads can be. Ben Cross and Gemma Jones (as Anna’s sympathetic doctor) in particular are very credible, as is young Elliot Spears, who tragically died five years later.
The imagery is the winner here though. The stark simplicity of Anna’s drawings come to life – the featureless, improbable house, a burning, fragmenting landscape and Dad’s shadowy, dead-eyed brutality – takes the viewer back to the nightmares of childhood, and the comforting formative world of clean sheets, warm drinks and bed. The swirling, delirious story premise swims from tragedy to child-nightmare to life-affirming, with only occasional moments where the sometimes awkward acting prevents things from becoming as emotionally moving as they might have been. A nicely directed dark fantasy.