Not every serial-killer thriller makes the cut to appear here on StreamingHorror.net. Though it’s certainly possible to approach the topic in a horrific fashion, many movies go the overtly-thriller route. Honestly, Faces in the Crowd mostly goes in that direction except for one aspect: prosopagnosia.
Prosopagnosia is a disorder of perception that makes it very difficult to differentiate faces. That seems odd, but think about how quickly you can recognize someone when you see their face. Now imagine trying to do the same thing by looking at a person’s hand. Unless you know that person very well, you’d have a really hard time, and it certainly would take a lot longer. And there’s almost as many features on a hand as a face. But we’ve evolved to very quickly identify people we know by the face, because the difference between surviving and dying can be a split second when you’re trying to tell friend from foe or stranger.
So our brains are built to recognize the very subtle differences of the human face VERY quickly. Except not everyone’s is.
As much as the epistemic doubt of Jacob’s Ladder or Hellraiser: Inferno, prosopagnosia is the stuff of horror. Especially if you couldn’t recognize the face of a serial killer who had it out for you.
Before we get into that, synopsis!
There’s a rule of fiction that you never start a story with a person waking up. That rule seems not to apply to screenwriting, as Faces in the Crowd opens with Mila waking up and talking to her dude. He’s a pretty boring, nondescript dude, even at this point, when she can still recognize faces.
She turns on the television just in time to catch Plot Point Action News and hear of the latest Tear-Jerk Jack slaying. In the real world, while the media may propose a serial killer’s nickname, we all must agree on it for it to stick. Apparently in the world of Faces in the Crowd, serial killer names are put to a vote down at the local kindergarten. You see, Tear-Jerk Jack weeps over his victims’ corpses.
Next, Mila reads her horoscope in The Plot Point Picayune, where she is warned of a “chance encounter with a stranger.”
After teaching a class full of rugrats (maybe they came up with the name Tear-Jerk Jack), Mila and the girls hit their regular ladies night! These ladies are WILD. They look at men’s butts. Men who are wearing inappropriately tight slacks.
At this point I didn’t know if I could morally continue watching such a lascivious film, but I felt it was my duty to bring an informed warning to you, so I pushed on.
Mila walks home from the club. She walks over the Brooklyn Bridge. In the middle of the night. Dressed for the club.
Really? NYC is pretty safe now, but seriously.
Of course, she interrupts Tear-Jerk Jack. He doesn’t notice immediately, but then her phone goes off. In trying to carve her up with a straight-razor—the ultimate serial-killing tool for the killer with a 5 o’clock shadow problem—TJJ knocks her off the bridge. As Mila goes over, she hits her head.
When she wakes up, she has prosopagnosia.
While at first she is primarily concerned with how to cope with her life, soon she realizes that TJJ is toying with her. What makes this particularly terrifying is that literally any male could be TJJ. Even her boyfriend is implicated.
The production value of Faces in the Crowd is high. The cinematography is nice, and while sometimes the shifting faces feels a bit overdone, it’s also pretty creepy.
The acting is good throughout. The funny thing is that except for a couple of select people, the cast is ever-changing. The same characters are portrayed by a new actor in every scene to simulate Mila’s inability to recognize faces. Pretty cool.
The writing is the weakest point in Faces in the Crowd. As far as dialogue goes, the conversations of the friends are goofy attempts at Sex and the City patter. Worse though, are the overly-intense cops. Worst of all is the prosopagnosia therapist. The writers spend a lot of time trying to convince you of how serious the situation is, when they should have trusted their viewers to understand. The effect is heavy-handed.
The other writing problem is in the trickle of clues. Once again, the writers underestimate their audience, and in trying to ensure that the reveal feels plausible, they telegraph the identity of the killer very early. Only by the ridiculous coincidental nature of some of their red-herrings are they able to preserve any uncertainty.
The constant insertion of prophetic horoscopes is also silly, and seem out of place as this movie has nothing to do with astrology.
So Faces in the Crowd is a mixed bag. While it has a lot going for it—big budget, big star, cool concept—somehow the writers managed to blow most of their opportunities, earning Faces in the Crowd 5 out of 10 stars.
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