Thursday, 8 March 2012

REVIEW: Faces In The Crowd (2012)

  An American-Canadian-French straight-to-DVD production about a woman who is stalked by a serial killer while trying to cope with limited eyesight, Faces In The Crowd cannot help but bring to mind last year’s great Spanish horror Julia’s Eyes. Can Faces In The Crowd stand up to the comparison?

  Milla Jovovich plays Anna, a young schoolteacher with a swank apartment and a swankier boyfriend Bryce (Michael Shanks, amongst others), who looks set to get that big promotion. Anna is the best teacher in the school, effortlessly learning the names of all the kids running around her. At night, she goes out with her two best friends, Nina and Francine (Valentina Vargas and Sarah Wayne Callies, amongst others). On a typical night out, Francine disappears with some guy she has picked up and Nina needs help getting into a taxi. Alone, Anna walks home, taking a detour across a closed bridge.

  There, she witnesses a murder by ‘Tearjerk Jack’, a serial killer with a grisly MO who has been plaguing the city. In the ensuing struggle, Tearjerk Jack almost kills Anna, but she survives. However, she has suffered a serious head trauma and has developed prosopagnosia, a rare illness that affects her ability to recognise faces. As the only person to have survived an attack by Tearjerk Jack, she is the best witness the police have. As she tries to cope with her inability to recognise even those closest to her, it appears that she is the killer’s new obsession.

  Faces In The Crowd begins with a very well orchestrated opening in which Anna is constantly praised for her ability to recognise the kids she teaches as well as coming across some premonitions, such as when a child spills water over a painting and the face starts to bleed across the page. While it is not the most subtle of openings, it does set up what seems to be a rather fun horror-thriller based on what is actually a real illness. It is the kind of film that could work very well as a tongue in cheek and inventive film from the Sam Raimi school of filmmaking (see, for example, The Evil Dead and Drag Me To Hell). However, writer-director Julien Magnet seems to want us to take all of this seriously although, considering Julia Eye’s and its ability to pull at the heartstrings, this shouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

  As a result, scenes in which a frequently lost Anna tries to cope with the ever-changing faces around her (characters are constantly played by different actors, their appearance changing between cuts, not unlike the ‘Horse of a Different Colour’ in The Wizard Of Oz) abound and a lot of time is taken detailing the psychological weight that this puts on her. It culminates in a sex scene between Anna and Bryce in which Anna finds herself sleeping with a different man every time she looks at the person on top of her. Though the scene is intended to be creepy and emotional, it can’t help but be unconvincing and a little comical. While constantly changing the actors is initially an interesting and rather playful technique, there seems to be little room for it to develop. Ultimately, it runs out of steam and the emotional moments feel like padding.

  As for the rest of the film, Faces In The Crowd is business as usual. You have the hard-nose homicide detective who is very rude to Anna to begin with – an odd clich√© since every cop would want a friendly witness – but eventually sees her as the only person who can stop Tearjerk Jack. You have the not very dependable boyfriend who is a bit thick and should really be a lot more understanding. There’s a criminal profiler who is constantly cracking jokes about getting into the mind of the killer. There is even a little boy who won’t talk but instead shushes Anna by placing a finger over his mouth and hitting her with a cold, hard stare.

  The film’s final act is an odd affair in which other characters work out who the serial killer is before Anna does, usurping her role as the active protagonist in the film. Becoming merely the key witness who constantly needs to be saved, Anna finds herself constantly in danger and is a far from a strong character. The film seems to be unsure about whether it wants to be about Anna coping with her illness or if it is a film about the search for a serial killer. As a result, both get fairly simplistic resolutions with Anna finding that she can recognise people by their ties or backsides and the killer’s psychological hang-ups are ridiculously clear-cut and easy to understand. In fact, in one scene, the killer himself explains to Anna his own pathology, showing a degree of self-awareness that is a little hard to accept from what is supposed to be an utter madman. It is very difficult to get emotionally involved in a film that completely forsakes its own character’s emotions.

  While Julia Eye’s had a degree of filmmaking ingenuity with some brilliantly executed suspense sequences, it also managed to be a heartfelt study of a woman going blind. With its gimmicky moments and its uninspiring plotting, Faces In The Crowd struggles to make you care. Despite a promising prosopagnosia USP, Faces In The Crowd is a serial killer stalks a helpless woman flick done with a very by-the-numbers approach. Tonally, it is dead serious, despite the fact that it is dead silly. That said, for an unsurprising, somewhat predictable potboiler, it is made with enough panache to keep it watchable. And the prosopagnosia stuff can be fun.

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