JANUARY 30, 2012
I had passed by Faces In The Crowd a few times, assuming it was just some DTV thriller. But I had an extra rental tonight and picked it up, seeing if was something that I could watch over the weekend when I had a little more free time. There are certainly worse ways to spend a couple hours than looking at Milla Jovovich, and I spied Sarah Wayne Callies’ name on there as well! Bonus “Hot nurse from Prison Break”! And then I saw it labeled as a “horror/thriller” on the DVD, and saw that it was about a serial killer, so hurrah!
Not too surprisingly, it’s a BIT of a stretch to call it horror. It’s about a serial killer, but he drops his MO in favor of trying to drive Milla crazy after she witnesses one of his killings, which puts it more into generic thriller territory – especially when she starts falling for the cop that is assigned to protect her. The hook is that her encounter with the killer leaves her with Prosopagnosia, a rare disorder that prevents her from being able to remember faces. Not just HIS face, all faces – her best friends, her boyfriend, even her dad look like strangers to her, and they even change from minute to minute. Sort of like those masks in A Scanner Darkly, basically – but she can “fight” it by focusing on something particular on their face. Hero cop Julian McMahon, for example, sports a goatee and thus she is able to keep track of what he looks like.
Thus, the most interesting thing about the movie is seeing how director Julien Magnat depicts this to the audience. Every character (besides Milla) is played by several people – her boyfriend is played by over a dozen credited actors, for example. As a result, the other actors – such as Callies – barely appear, as we only see her once before the accident but then after, apart from a couple of shots, she is always being played by other women (with her awful haircut being the only thing to ground us). In fact I kind of wish Magnat had opted for a similar approach to Memoirs Of An Invisible Man, where they set up a gag with him being invisible, but then show Chevy normally so we could follow along/see our name actor as much as possible. But either Magnat doesn’t trust us or was using this motif as a clever way to keep the budget down by hiring recognizable folks for what couldn’t have been more than 2 days of work, because even when the scene isn’t necessarily playing on Milla’s problem with identifying them, they still don’t return to the original actor or actress, which makes it a bit harder to get worked up when they get killed off. The face changing keeps us from being attached to them, and in fact one corpse is even yet another new face (the credits list “Dead _____” or something like that).
However, it DOES get the point across. The casting folks did a great job of finding people that looked close enough alike to momentarily disorient us as well as Milla, which helps sell this very tricky and personal problem to the viewing audience. I was a bit baffled that she’d continue to lash out and hit someone because she didn’t recognize their face even after a few weeks of dealing with this – you’d think she’d be used to it by now – but otherwise it’s one of the better on-screen depictions of a strange neurological issue. Memento is the undisputed champ of such things, but in this area anyway, Crowd measures up.
Sadly, it’s nowhere nearly as successful in telling its mystery story. Even with the face changing gimmick, it’s pretty obvious who the killer is, and the movie’s feeble attempts at red herrings (i.e. her boyfriend) are wholly unsuccessful. And it’s not even a case of “you’ve seen too many movies” – the movie doesn’t bother to offer any potential suspects besides her boyfriend and the actual killer! And the boyfriend is cleared at around the 70 minute mark, so until the final chase we’re just kind of waiting for the movie to get around to telling us what we already know. The killer uses her disorder to his advantage, which leads to some fun scenes, but if she was just plain ol’ blind there would be almost no point to the movie at all. To compare to Memento again, the gimmick was a major selling point, but it was still a compelling mystery/thriller on a basic level. This lacks that intrigue, and the fact that he drops his usual type of killing and focuses on cleaning up this particular mess doesn’t help either. If she was an INTENDED victim who he discovered had this problem and decided to have a little fun with her first, then it might be unique/interesting, but a generic “no witnesses!” approach does the movie no favors.
It’s also kind of awkward on all levels. Almost none of the characters have much of a chemistry (with the exception of Callies and Jovovich, who sadly only have like 4 minutes of screentime together); McMahon in particular seems uncomfortable playing the tough but romantic hero cop. The editing is also wonky; perhaps it’s intentional to give it more of that uneasy feeling, but I don’t think so. Like there’s a bit at a bar where McMahon walks over to Milla, pulls out a stool, and sits next to her – we see this in three shots from angles that aren’t much different from one another, and McMahon appears to be in a different position in relation to her with each cut. There are also subplots that have no payoff, such as the fact that her shrink is deaf and thus needs to read lips. And Milla’s dad comes to visit and then leaves again just as quickly, despite the fact that keeping him around might actually be a fun potential red herring.
Nothing is as weird as the back of the DVD though, which lists “Bonus Material” under “Special Features”, as if the two meant completely different things. As it turns out, the “Bonus Material” is merely a trio of brief featurettes covering the film’s cast, FX, and story. Why they were split into three segments is unknown, especially since it’s CLEARLY meant to be one piece as only the third one has credits for the director/editor/producers. They’re not too bad as these things go, though I had to laugh when they showcased the film’s amateurish green-screen compositing during car scenes. “They added in the background later!” a producer tells us, over a shot with a background that might as well have been drawn in with MS Paint.
If you’re in the mood for a Lifetime-ish take on a serial killer movie with an unusual hook, this should scratch the itch – but you gotta admit: that’s a very specific mood. With a better mystery at its core and some better casting decisions this could have been really cool. Instead it’s just decent; something Milla junkies can watch while they wait for the next Resident Evil movie.
What say you?