After falling victim to an attempted murder, Anna Merchant (Milla Jovovich) wakes up in a hospital room. Friends tower over her, asking her how she’s feeling, but instead of answering, she runs to the washroom. She didn’t recognize them. In the bathroom, she looks at a mirror. She doesn’t recognize her face either. If she closes her eyes while talking to someone, their face morphs. What’s going on?
A doctor explains that she has prosopagnosia, meaning that part of her brain was damaged in the murder attempt. Most of the people unable to recognize faces don’t suffer from the affliction for long, he explains, and she should be back to normal soon. But it would be best if she went after a second opinion anyway. Eventually, she seeks the help of a woman (Marianne Faithfull), who attempts to help her out in this matter. It seems that she’s going to be stuck this way for a while, which will likely put a strain on her relationship with her boyfriend, Bryce (Michael Shanks), as she can’t remember his face either.
Meanwhile, the killer is still out there. She’s the only one to survive a murder attempt from this man, and she’s also the only one to see his face. Detective Kerrest (Julian McMahon) is investigating the case, although Anna proves to be a difficult witness given the fact that she can’t remember faces. This leads to a lot of situations where she thinks the killer might be in the room with her — and he very well might be — but she can’t tell who it is. Everyone is a suspect. It could be Bryce, the detective, or even her father (whom she has arrested at one point).
Faces in the Crowd is a very odd viewing experience. Sometimes we see things from Anna’s perspective, meaning we see many different faces for all of the different characters, but other times, we see it from that of an outsider’s. It leads to a strange situation wherein we get disoriented because we’re never sure if what we’re seeing is true. This does make it interesting and keeps us engaged, but if you’re hoping to always know what’s going on, you’ll be disappointed.
You won’t feel that way if you want to understand what Anna is thinking, observing and feeling as we follow her around her post-accident experiences. Remember something like The Eye, which had the opportunity to shine some light into what someone would go through in recovering from a mid-life disability? Remember how it kind of sidestepped that in favor of some ghosts and jump scares? Faces in the Crowd wants to remedy this, so it spends a lot of time dealing with how someone would have to adapt to this condition.
As a result, Faces in the Crowd plays out more like a drama than a thriller for most of its runtime. It spends more time dealing with Anna trying to live her life unable to recognize faces than it does with the murderer possibly stalking her or the police investigation. Eventually, it turns into something of a love story, although you’re always wondering who the murderer might be. Using the killer sparingly instead of all the time makes him more menacing while allowing us to focus on the characters, but also ensures that we don’t forget about him. He could always be the guy standing right in front of her.
If nothing else, I felt like I understood what people with prosopagnosia feel like. It’s a real condition, not just something made up for the film, and seeing how difficult life would be while living with it (even without the added bonus of having a killer on the loose who may or may not be after you) was terrifying. That’s the scariest part of the film, and it certainly brought the condition to light. It’s portrayed as a real disability and a hindrance on one’s life, and that’s usually an important thing for me.
The unfortunate thing about Faces in the Crowd is that it’s not really all that entertaining, even if it is somewhat educational. When you strip away Anna’s condition and you get down to the crux of the story, the mystery involving a killer, you get downright silly. And the solution isn’t overly complicated either. Yes, most of the characters are there just to be red herrings. No, the actual killer probably won’t come as a surprise. After we finally found out who it was, I lost complete interest — and then the film still had to conclude and either kill him or kill Anna. I yawned and realized there hadn’t been many thrills in the past hour and a half.
I’ve never disliked Milla Jovovich in a lead role. Generally, she’s a pretty good action star and a decent dramatic actor. She’s fine here, and gives us a believable character, even if some of the dialogue she’s given is cringe-worthy. Julian McMahon is also good, although I hoped he would be creepier given that he’s one of the characters we’re supposed to suspect. Everyone else blended into the background — likely on purpose.
Faces in the Crowd is a decent drama/thriller about a woman having to adjust to face-blindness all while being stalked by her would-be murderer. It’s entertaining, although it’s less thrilling than one might hope for. I did have fun with it, and I think it’s worth a watch, even if the murderer and the mystery surrounding him isn’t particularly interesting or surprising. You’ll probably figure it out even with the ever-changing faces.