Faces in the Crowd
Author: Julien Magnat
Writer’s Potential: 4
Logline:After a woman narrowly escapes a serial killer, she’s afflicted with a brain disorder that prevents her from seeing faces.
Synopsis:ANNA (30s) wakes in the arms of her loving boyfriend, BRYCE. As they both get ready for work, a TV news report in the background announces that serial killer “Tearjerk Jack” has killed his fifth victim. Anna teaches kindergarten. She makes a good impression on the parents. After work, Anna meets her best friends FRANCINE (perpetually single and bitter about it) and NINA (a Chilean femme fatale) at a nightclub, where they check out guys and joke around. Afterward, Francine and Nina take a cab to another club, leaving Anna to walk home. She takes a pedestrian bridge over a river, not noticing that it’s partially under construction. Hidden in the repair site is Tearjerk Jack and his latest victim. Anna watches him kill the woman, then begin crying over it (hence the name). Tearjerk Jack doesn’t notice Anna — until her cell phone blares. He chases Anna, and she falls over the side of the bridge into the river, losing her distinctive handbag and her cell phone.
Anna wakes in a hospital, but she initially can’t see any faces at all. When the faces do finally take shape, they’re not the same as the ones she remembered. Anna’s terrified to hear different voices coming out of Bryce, Francine, and Nina. She flees the hospital room and locks herself in the bathroom. While doctors try to track down their key, Anna looks in the mirror — and sees someone else. She screams. Some time later, a neurologist diagnoses Anna with “prosopagnosia,” or “face blindness,” caused by the head injury she suffered falling into the river. As a result, every time she looks at a person — even someone very familiar to her — she’ll see an unfamiliar face, even though their voices and mannerisms are familiar. The neurologist optimistically suggests that she might be suffering some kind of mental shock and gives her the card of a neuropsychiatrist. Bryce brings Anna home and gets a phone call. He leaves the room, and when he comes back — he has yet another new face. Anna’s horrified. Bryce announces that a police detective called. He wants to take her statement.
Anna and Bryce meet DETECTIVE KERREST (30s, goatee) at the police station. Kerrest tells her that they didn’t find much of her personal effects at the crime scene. He asks Anna not to cancel her cell phone contract on the off-chance that the killer uses it for some reason. Anna gives her statement. Kerrest asks Anna to look at a facebook of possible suspects. Anna tries, but she wouldn’t even know the right face if she saw it. Desperate to find the killer, Kerrest grows hostile. Anna blows up, announcing that she simply can’t recognize faces. In the station cafeteria, Kerrest has lunch with police psychologist LANYON. They discuss the “face blindness,” which surprises and fascinates Lanyon. Other than Anna, they have no leads.
After a nightmare, Anna wakes to find yet another new Bryce ready to comfort her. She’s uneasy. Later, she calls her FATHER — who’s on vacation in Argentina — who announces he’ll be in town soon and invites Anna to dinner. Anna tells him to meet her after school. Temporarily using Bryce’s old cell phone, Anna can’t resist the temptation to dial her old cell phone number. As the phone rings, the doorbell rings, making Anna jump. It turns out to be new versions of Francine and Nina. They’ve recorded a backlog of Anna’s favorite soap opera and want to watch it together. The experience is frustrating, because the faces of actors change for Anna every time they’re off-camera. Anna decides to visit the neuropsychiatrist, DR. LANGENKAMP, but she thinks Langenkamp’s advice is New Age crap and leaves in a huff. The next morning, Anna prepares for her first day back at school. She’s horrified to learn the faces of her entire class appear blank to her. She has them make nametags and humiliates herself in front of unrecognizable parents when she can find their children. Outside, an unfamiliar man in a bright orange shirt leans against a tree, staring at her. When Anna looks back, he’s gone. Anna has a panic attack and explodes on her students. Anna’s boss puts her on extended leave, reluctantly allowing her to return in the fall if she improves. Anna rides the subway home. She’s horrified when her missing handbag appears on the seat across from her. Panicked, she calls Kerrest (who’s just learned of a seventh victim), who sends police to intercept the train. The connection cuts off, right around the time Anna sees the man in the orange shirt again, riding in the next car. He knocks on the window, trying to get her attention. Anna flees, hopping on another train. The man in the orange shirt follows, menacingly. Anna moves through the cars on the train, trying in vain to get away from him. He catches up with her just as the police get on the train and shout for him to freeze — but the man in the orange shirt is Anna’s Father, unrecognizable to her. Anna’s humiliated and upset.
At home, Anna flips out, shattering every mirror in the house, then growing increasingly agitated as the tiny mirror fragments reflect more and more unfamiliar faces. A new Bryce comes home, confused and irritated. Tail between her legs, Anna returns to Dr. Langenkamp, willing to take the process seriously now. Langenkamp offers various tips and tricks on how to recognize people without their faces. Anna quickly grows more confident as she learns to use hairstyle, clothing, jewelry, gait, etc., to identify people. With Bryce, Anna begins using a journal to identify him by the tie. As Anna starts to recognize him more easily, Bryce believes she’s getting better and really sees his face. Anna lets him believe this. After awhile, Anna is called in to see Kerrest yet again, and she’s shocked to learn that Kerrest has the same face he had when she saw him originally. She doesn’t know what makes him special, but she’s thrilled about it. Kerrest introduces Anna to Lanyon, who explains his theory about Tearjerk Jack: that he’s ashamed and disturbed by his crimes, which is what causes him to cry over the victims. Anna tells Kerrest she thinks she can identify the killer by watching him walk. They stage a line-up, but she fails to identify a killer.
Anna has a birthday party at the nightclub. They see an extremely good-looking guy dancing, and Francine is shocked to see him checking her out. She goes to dance with him, but something about him makes Anna think he’s the killer. She rushes to find Bryce — who’s at the bar — for help, but it’s actually a completely different guy. Now aware of her dishonesty, Bryce dumps Anna on the spot. Shortly after he leaves, Anna receives a call — from her own phone! It’s the killer, who ridicules her and makes it abundantly clear that he’s watching her and knows she can’t spot faces. He’s angry and oddly flippant, claiming her inability to identify him is the only thing that keeps him from stopping, but he wants to stop. He hangs up, and Anna realizes Francine has disappeared. Eventually they find her — dead, on the dance floor. Later, Kerrest and Lanyon arrive with the police. Kerrest takes Anna’s statement. When Kerrest finds out the killer called just after Bryce left, he grows suspicious, especially when they can’t get ahold of Bryce. Anna takes Kerrest back to her apartment, where he steps on Bryce’s coat on the floor. Anna picks it up, and her old cell phone tumbles out. Kerrest decides to take Anna to a coastal island village, to keep her safe while the police look for Bryce and wait for DNA results. Anna enjoys the quiet and simplicity. She and Kerrest make love.
Anna wakes to find Kerrest has shaved his goatee — and now he looks like a completely different person to Anna. Thinking his unchanging face somehow meant something special, Anna is now crushed and depressed by the unintentional betrayal. Kerrest is confused. He takes her back to the city once Bryce has been cleared through DNA. Anna realizes she’s had nightmares in which she saw people’s real faces — she thinks she can identify the killer through hypnosis. Langenkamp warns against it, but Anna and Kerrest are willing to risk it. Through the hypnosis, the best they can find is that Anna did see the real killer during the line-up. Kerrest puts out an APB on the line-up suspects. Lanyon warns Kerrest against this recklessness, noting that eight of the 10 already had negative DNA tests. Anna receives a text from Bryce, asking her to meet him at a fancy restaurant. Unable to find Kerrest, Anna leaves him a VoiceMail and meets Bryce. Bryce apologizes and makes a kind declaration of love. Anna crushes him by saying she’s come to realize she doesn’t truly love him. Bryce storms off to the restroom, telling her he didn’t expect this after her text message. Once the remark registers, Anna checks his text history and learns someone sent him an identical message to the one she received. Lanyon, the killer, waits for Bryce. He murders him and steals his clothes.
Unaware he’s not Bryce, Anna grabs Lanyon so they can get out of the restaurant before the killer finds them. Kerrest gets Anna’s VoiceMail and comes after her, somehow coming to the conclusion that Lanyon is the killer. Anna and Lanyon run outside, just as Kerrest and backup arrive. Anna doesn’t recognize him, but she realizes Lanyon isn’t Bryce. She grabs a policeman’s gun and runs, back to the pedestrian bridge where she originally saw the killer. Lanyon chases her, and Kerrest chases him. Anna recognizes neither of them. Eventually, Kerrest dabs oil on his face to simulate the goatee. Kerrest and Lanyon fight, and Lanyon pulls his gun. Lanyon manages to bury Kerrest in a tarp, freeing him to return to Anna. Anna throws him over the bridge, killing him. She runs back to find Kerrest, but Lanyon has shot him. He dies.
Anna narrates an epilogue describing her new life. She moved to the island village, where it’s easy to recognize people because there aren’t many of them. She teaches a small group in a one-room schoolhouse and lives alone, still loving Kerrest.
Comments:Faces in the Crowd attempts to craft a Memento-like thriller about a brain-damaged person attempting to catch a criminal. Despite its nifty premise, the script tells a leaden, predictable story that gets downright silly in its third act. As written, it merits a pass.
The script’s most significant problem is its characters and how they relate to one another. The writer gives a lot of surface information about Anna — she’s a teacher in a happy relationship with some good friends — but he never digs past the surface. Since the story is more preoccupied with how she deals with her “face blindness” than with the murder plot, the fact that we learn so little about the character is frustrating and makes her struggles far less compelling than they should be.
The supporting characters get a similar superficial treatment. Anna’s friends add nothing to the story except more people for her to not recognize. Bryce is so bland and generically supportive that his sudden 180 when he discovers Anna has lied about recognizing his face seems far-fetched, as does the notion that he’d ever be a suspected serial killer. Worst of all, Anna’s romance with Kerrest comes completely out of left field. The writer gives no inkling that these people are even attracted to each other until they’ve already made love, after which he hastily adds a line suggesting that Anna thought he was special because she could recognize him when everyone else was unfamiliar.
The setup for this story is fantastic — a woman witnesses a serial killer in action, they struggle, she survives but receives a brain injury that prevents her from recognizing his or anyone else’s face. After the briskly paced first act, however, the writer sticks the serial killer story into the background and concentrates more on Anna’s symptoms and her struggle to deal with the disorder. As previously stated, this would be fine if she were a more interesting, well-rounded character. Because she’s not, the second act is a bit plodding. The writer tries to keep the suspense up by choosing random characters to make suspicious — first Kerrest, then Bryce — but it’s never convincing. Keeping Lanyon in the background and consciously keeping him free of suspicion, ironically, makes it more obvious that he’ll be the killer.
The aimless, random plotting leads to a baffling third act, in which Anna’s longtime boyfriend is murdered but Anna doesn’t care much, Lanyon turns into a sneering caricature of a serial killer, and Kerrest inexplicably concludes Lanyon was the killer all along. None of this makes much sense, and it all goes back to poorly written characters: Lanyon never gets enough face time for audiences to understand why he’s so angry and disgusted by his crimes but can’t just confess or commit suicide; Kerrest draws his conclusions out of thin air, sloppily putting together pieces that don’t fit; and, since the writer never sells the love story between Anna and Kerrest, it’s inconceivable that his murder would have a more profound impact on her than the death of Bryce, a man she’s dated and lived with for an unspecified number of years.
Adding insult to injury, the dialogue is astonishingly bad. When characters aren’t making on-the-nose statements, they’re either talking in riddles or eye-rolling one-liners. This is a bad script that cannot be saved by any measure.