Faces in the Crowd comes to DVD on 2nd January and feels like a 1990s thriller. It has racy ambitions and a bold concept – after an attack by a serial killer a woman is rendered face-blind and can no longer distinguish faces – however it takes the worst of the 90s with it and doesn’t push its concept beyond the surface. The end result is a clichéd by-the-numbers thriller with limited appeal.
Written and directed by Julien Magnat, Faces in the Crowd stars Milla Jovovich as Anna, a primary school teacher who has a close unit of 3 girlfriends and a corporate boyfriend she’s been dating for a year and contemplating marriage. However when she interrupts a vicious rapist, the “Tearjerk Killer”, she is left with a condition called “prosopagnosia”, which means she cannot remember any faces. She is not face blind as such – people are not crimewatch fuzzy (which may have been more interesting) – but everyone has a different face each time she sees them, making it hard to know who to trust. And hard to identify the killer.
Her boyfriend struggles to deal with being not recognised – and is generally shallow about her whole condition – and her job is impossible now she cannot distinguish the children. She also cannot help the police, even though she’s the only one to escape the Tearjerk Killer alive.
The Killer makes the most of his considerable good fortune and begins to taunt her, and the police detective – the only person Anna can actually recognise – presses her to help find the killer before he strikes again.
The concept is interesting, but Faces in the Crowd has wobbly execution and little tension. Anna and the detective muddle through a romance as the people around her show little understanding, and a therapist is ours and Anna’s conduit through the psychological speak. The tricky problem of showing Anna’s face blindness itself is tackled by constantly switching the actor that plays each role other than the detective. It is a bold idea, but unfortunately with the station-to-station plot the effect is more distracting than arresting. The stakes rise with the body count, but nothing is as surprising as Faces in the Crowd tries to be, and in trying to remain accessible the edge of its premise is ultimately sacrificed. Trouble too is that the whole cast is papery thin, and the handling of the murderer is clumsily clichéd and predictable.
There are good touches – Anna keeps a log of people’s clothes and ties in order to pretend to recognize them – but real pressure is limited and the plot strays to close to either the convenient or the ridiculous to care.
It picks up towards the ending – which is again fairly predictable, but it at least tries hard to be entertaining – and the situation is original enough to withstand idle viewing, particularly if you can spot the various horror references. However Faces in the Crowd does not have the horror, thrills or the depth to make it engaging, the short 78 minutes feels more like 90, and at the most it should wait for DVD rental or TV release.