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With a title as generic as “Faces in the Crowd”, and a generic poster that you’ve seen a dozen times—yeah, no movie has ever had a poster with a picture of a face in a broken mirror—it is no wonder that the finished product is, you guessed it, generic. One thing that “Faces in the Crowd” does have going for it that most terrible thrillers don’t, is that it is really goddamn funny. I’m not kidding, it’s super hilarious, one of the funnier movies I’ve seen in a while, and takes itself so seriously that you can’t help but burst out laughing in moments of supposedly heightened tension.
You know how sometimes, especially with low-budget horror, you get the feeling that writers went through a medical text book looking for obscure diseases, infections, and afflictions that haven’t been turned into a movie yet, and base their script on that? If you haven’t felt this way, though I assume you probably have to some degree, “Faces in the Crowd” will definitely turn you that direction. There is a condition called Prosopagnosia, a state where the brain’s ability to recognize and distinguish faces is impaired. It is a real thing, and, I imagine for those who suffer from it, one hell of a tough problem to deal with. Colloquially, Prosopagnosia is called “face blindness”, which, we can all admit, sounds silly and made up. Again, a horrible affliction, but doesn’t that sound like some make believe nonsense to you?
Face blindness is at the center of “Faces in the Crowd”. Anna Marchant has a stereotypically filmic perfect life. She’s young, pretty, has a pair of sassy BFFs, and a sexy, sweet, idyllic boyfriend, who she suspects is going to propose soon. Things are going so well that you just know that there’s a monkey wrench waiting to fall into the works. That monkey wrench comes in the form of local serial killer, Tearjerk Jack. Say this name a couple of times, it never rolls off the tongue right, and I’m going to make this bold, declarative statement, it is a terrible name for a serial killer. TJJ, as he will henceforth be knows, kills then rapes his female victims, weeping over the corpses he so recently violated. After a night out, Anna has the misfortune to see TJJ doing his thing in a dark alley. In the escape she falls off a bridge, conks her noggin, and when she wakes up, BOOM, face blindness.
I can see the appeal of the subject matter. After all, what is more horrifying than waking up and not being able to distinguish the people you love most in the world from absolute strangers? And the approach used by writer/director Julien Magnat has definite potential—after the trauma multiple actors play every role. Every time someone leaves a room, is obscured by a crowd and comes into focus again, or even when Anna closes her eyes, she sees a new face, including her own face in the mirror. The problem is that you don’t care at all. I like Jovovich, the “Resident Evil” movies are an oft-avowed guilty pleasure of mine, but her performance is so overblown in “Faces in the Crowd” that it borders on soap operatic. It is tacitly impossible to take her seriously in this film, from the obligatory waking-up-after-a-coma freak out, to Anna not recognizing her own father on the subway. Her performance is truly one of the great comedic turns of this year, all unintentional, which makes it that much more entertaining. I don’t want to ruin anything, but let’s just say that there’s one of the funniest sex scenes since Elizabeth Berkeley and Kyle MacLachlan’s epileptic swimming pool encounter in “Showgirls”.
You get the definite impression that though Magnat did the research and found the condition, he doesn’t necessarily believe it himself. When the doctor is trying to convince Anna and her boyfriend Bryce that Prosopagnosia is in fact something that exists, you feel like he’s trying to convince himself as well. When Bryce asks the doctor to, “dumb it down a little, Doc,” you realize this statement applies to the movie as a whole.
“Faces in the Crowd” fails to be tense or dramatic, and it also fails as a mystery. If you pay any attention at all, you know exactly who TJJ is at around the thirty-minute mark. But that doesn’t matter, because at some point the story completely abandons the catching a serial killer angle, and focuses on Anna trying to cope with her inability to distinguish faces. The film wanders around for a while, there’s an ill-advised love story between Anna and Detective Kerrest (Julian McMahon), the only person she actually recognizes, and of course she gets to the point where she had to not recognize herself in order to find out who she truly is. Deep, right?
Despite a mildly intriguing concept, “Faces in the Crowd” falls flat on its face in everything it sets out to accomplish. Comically over-serious, the film is not taut, frightening, or particularly compelling on any front. What it is, is inadvertently comical. If you’re in the mood to watch a movie with some friends, crack a few beers, and mock the living hell out what you see on screen, “Faces in the Crowd” is for you, otherwise, you’re better off leaving it on the shelf.
Julien Magnat (writer/director)
CAST: Milla Jovovich…Anna Marchant
Julian McMahon…Detective Sam Kerrest
Sarah Wayne Callies…Francine
Marianne Faithfull…Dr. Langenkamp