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Faces in the Crowd

Other // R // October 25, 2011
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted October 26, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

In Faces in the Crowd, a serial killer has been tearing through town with a straight-razor and a penchant for crying over his victims, all women, and the cops have no real leads over whose DNA they're pulling from the tears. One night, after clunking home in her high-heels from an evening out with the girls, lower-grade schoolteacher Anna (Milla Jovovich) spots the killer dicing up his latest victim. And, wouldn't you know it, he catches glimpse of her witnessing his latest conquest, and bolts after her. An accident occurs: soon after she steals a look at the killer's face, Anna stumbles, hits her head, and falls far out of his reach. She's safe; however, when she wakes up in the hospital with all her friends around, she can't recognize any of their faces -- and not in an amnesia kind of way. If she looks away even for a second, the facial features of her boyfriend Bryce completely change. This makes it pretty difficult for Anna to identify the storied killer, either in a line-up or, incidentally, simply on the street if he walked passed her.

Faces in the Crowd uses a real disorder, prosopagnosia ("face-blindness"), as the cornerstone for its tension, and the science behind it stands out as the most compelling feature of Julien Magnat's thriller-horror hybrid. Magnat, doubling as writer and clearly researched, cherry-picks scenarios that someone with the condition might experience, then ties them into his story: a schoolteacher unable to identify their students, a club-hopper unable to distinguish the date or group they're with, and a lover unable to recognize the face of the person they're having sex with ... even seeing their features change mid-act. He then explores the ways in which Anna copes with the condition, the little tactics -- standout feature recognition, body language, day-to-day articles of clothing -- taking center stage as it attempts to generate sympathy for the character, while outlining her post-incident turmoil. Great ideas course through the film's veins, a framework for an effective and bizarre whodunit.

While the science -- and the emotion cascading off of it -- draws us into Anna's maddening psyche, albeit too drawn-out in an effort to over-emphasize the severity of her situation, the elements that fill out the rest of Faces in the Crowd drag its competency way down. Its biggest problem is an intentional one: too many alternating faces and actors (sometimes driven by dodgy CG effects and obnoxious ADR), which makes for a discombobulated experience not grabbing enough to justify the erratic shifting. That doesn't go for all of them, since it amplifies the mood when Anna wipes the condensation from a bathroom mirror and emphatically curdles at the sight of multiple strange faces. It's her morphing friends, boyfriend, and the police officers hunting the killer that weakens it; Magnat puffs up their mannerisms to make voices and gestures bluntly identifiable, but he neglects to make them authentic moving pieces. I might've thrown a conniption fit had I heard one character say "chica" one more time. It doesn't help that the performances surrounding Jovovich are either uncomfortably inflated females, or bland and limp males.

Milla Jovovich herself, on the other hand, jibes with Faces in the Crowd enough as a fearful woman losing her grip on one of humanity's inborn senses, a diversion from the actress who typically handles resilient, in-control female roles. She allows her vulnerability to pour through as Anna; as she visits psychologists, interacts with an awkwardly-goateed police detective (Nip/Tuck's Julian McMahon), and frantically holes herself up on trains in fear of seeing the killer, her emotions-on-the-sleeve dramatic poise weaves together with the film's overt temper. Even when she's interacting with the misdirected, wooden characters that surround her, Jovovich's barefaced charisma comes through in a way that's not purely a rehash of her previous roles, though it's largely a reflection of her raw human temperament. There's no denying she's more put-together when navigating rough-and-tumble feminine parts -- Alice in Resident Evil and Violet in Ultraviolet, obviously, along with her assertiveness in Stone -- but her acting chops don't falter much here.

But as Anna's mental integrity plummets and Faces in the Crowd navigates through a melodramatic jungle gym of serial-killer twists and elevated complications with her prosopagnosia, Magnat's peculiar thriller creates frustrating, disorienting suspense that loses its pragmatic grip on the condition's facets. The original cleverness of the script gets lost in a series of progressive plot holes and second guesses late in the game -- particularly: "Wouldn't Anna be able to distinguish body structure, skin complexion, or hair style?" -- which ultimately boil to a harebrained climax that ventures outside the zone of tolerable suspension of disbelief. Once the curtain's pulled on the owner of the DNA that's been tear-dropped on a slew of victims, and who's been hounding Anne, it's hard not to feel ambivalence towards the humdrum reveal. We're shown so many faces throughout the course of the film that eventually viewing the killer's -- at least, this one -- doesn't really give it much of an identity.

The Blu-ray:

Video and Audio:

While it's hard to get enthusiastic about Faces in the Crowd on a cinematic level, it's equally as difficult not to be a fan of Millenium Entertainment's staggeringly well-executed Blu-ray release. Starting with the visual rendering: the 1080p AVC treatment, framed at 2.35:1, looks damn-near impeccable. You can go down the check-list of elements that more discerning, critical eyes look for in high-definition presentations of films and find something exceptional; skin tones are warm, balanced, and occasionally even showcase subtle flush in close-ups; the contrast levels render rich, inky blacks that speak to upper-end photographic style yet never swallow a single detail; and the degree of textural detail, from clothing and the strokes of a pencil on paper to the soft-blue textures draped over Milla Jovovich's midriff during a particularly racy scene, are etched out with flawless precision. If there's a slight reservation in labeling the digitally-shot image an hour-and-a-half of perfection, it's in some very faint color banding in a few backgrounds, and even that might be derivative from the source. In short: wow.

Millenium Entertainment aren't done there, as the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 treatment for Faces in the Crowd mingles across the entirety of the surround stage far more than you might expect. You'll be treated to several scenes in a chatter-heavy bar and on a fast-moving train, which the HD audio captures with surprisingly fierce background-creating expansiveness. Great additives, like the rumble of thunder and a train whistle, aid in crafting a true 360-degree atmosphere. Dialogue delivery streams crystal clear and aware of its surroundings, while the spinning of sirens, the rushing of water, and the click-clack of heels capably yet nimbly immerse from the front-end with awareness of the sound design. Again, it's a few steps away from being flawless, as a few scenes feel a bit thin with their sound design, but overall it's an astonishingly well-conceived aural treatment. Millenium Entertainment deserves massive kudos for this one. Optional English and Spanish SDH subs are available.

Special Features:

It's only in the supplemental department where this Blu-ray packs a weaker punch. Aside from a very brief press-kit-caliber Making Of (2:47, SD MPEG-2) piece, an exploration on Doppelgangers (5:40, SD MPEG-2) regarding the decisions made about the degree of likeness needed for the similar-looking actors for the film, and a generic, spoiler-heavy Cast of Characters (5:17, SD MPEG-2) piece, all we've got is a cluster of Previews for other Millennium Entertainment films: Blitz, Trust, Elephant White, Shadows and Lies, and Faces in the Crowd.

Final Thoughts:

Faces in the Crowd falls into the category of unique ideas that lack the flesh on its bones to fill out its potential, where the magnetism of the lead and the interest level generated by the concept aren't able to guide the picture's creaky execution across the finish line. Julien Magnat's use of face-blindness as a central device within a horror-thriller deserves attention, but it's in the other elements of his script -- the people surrounding main character Anna, the point-for-point connection of events, and the more deeply-used components of the disorder -- where it loses steam. Milla Jovovich turns in a suitable performance as Anna, trading out pistol-firing heroism to create a more submissive victim, and the way she interacts and reacts to the events around the prosopagnosia condition certainly throttle many scenes into successful mood-suspense territory. But the follow-through lacks vigor, intrigue, and a respectable grasp on Anna's ailment, which filters into a soggy conclusion that's just not as effective as it needs to be. Millenium Entertainment's Blu-ray, however, goes above and beyond the realm of effective, though, sporting superb audiovisual properties that will make the one-shot screening a very pleasant one. Rent It.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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