Faults begins with a cold open in a diner, where Ansel Roth (Leland Orser), a washed up expert on de-programming former cult members, is furiously eating a meal that he is unable to pay for. After a sparsely attended seminar in a hotel, a couple approaches Ansel about their daughter Claire’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) involvement in a cult called Faults. Ansel, struggling with financial problems, agrees to kidnap Claire in order to counteract the brainwashing Faults has placed on her.
Claire responds to her kidnapping in a partly normal, partly eccentric way. She doesn’t sleep, opting instead to stare at a television set of static through the first night of her capture. She holds back threats of brutal aggression, stating that she is “waiting for a sign from God.” She refuses to be called by her birth name. But she also screams and attempts to flee.
All the while, strange things are happening to Ansel. his nostril starts periodically bleeding. A battery in his suit coat pocket spontaneously lights on fire. A superstitious presence seems to burden him, almost burdening him before he even meets Claire.
A smart script dominates the battle of wits between Ansel and Claire. Meditations on existential philosophies spur up a subtext of insecurities and, apt title invoked, faults in both characters. Ansel begins his seminar with a simple statement: “You are free. You have free will.” As Ansel and Claire’s sessions progress, the line between who has free will and why blurs. A hint of disorientation laces the entire motel room setting. Then, the expected reversal spirals the diegesis of the film into a quiet chaos. It is an easily predictable turn, but one that is nonetheless fun to watch.
Leland Orser’s Ansel is a train barreling toward a wreck, but he plays it cynical and selfish as if he is tragically unaware. The film may focus on its environment as an experiment of human control and will, as opposed to the characters, but Orser steals the show on the acting front.
Winstead, on the other hand, plays her role somewhat mechanically. Having collaborated with director Riley Stearns previously on two short films (Casque and Magnificat), one would think that the pair would work well together to form a compelling portrayal of cult-indoctrinated Claire. She plays well off of Orser, but otherwise delivers her lines robotically.
Stearns himself deserves credit for crafting a tense psychological thriller for his first feature length film. Faults may be predictable, but it still strings you along like it is a magician playing an elaborate trick. It controls you with its dizzy pace and quietly manic lead character.
It controls you…
This film has some strong moments, particularly between Winstead and Orser. It is cerebral, even where it moves exactly where you expect it to. Currently, you can stream the film on Netflix or find it on Amazon Instant Video here.
As always, thanks for reading!
Have you seen Faults? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!
–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)