Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Riley Stearns
Written by: Riley Stearns
Starring: Leland Orser, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jon Gries, Lance Reddick & Beth Grant
FAULTS is a project that I’ve been interested in seeing since its premiere at last year’s SXSW Film Festival. Riley Stearns has crafted a strange little beast of a film that deals with cults and deprogramming. This feature debut almost feels like a highly unusual one-act play on the screen with shades of David Lynch. Though a couple of problems keep it from perfection, FAULTS is almost certain to satisfy cinephiles looking for something out of the ordinary.
Ansel is a washed-up cult expert living from shoddy gig to shoddy gig. With his new book being a financial failure and his minor celebrity status crumbling before his eyes, the future looks very bleak for Ansel…that is until he’s given an opportunity to pay off his debts. After one particularly painful presentation, Ansel meets the parents of Claire, a young woman who’s recently become a member of a cult called “Faults.” Charging a hefty fee and seeing an easy payday, Ansel begins a deprogramming session with Claire to rid her mind of the cult’s brainwashing. As pressure comes from Claire and a loan shark agent, Ansel finds his anxiety getting worse which makes him vulnerable to some of Claire’s crazier beliefs. The two begin a battle of wits wherein brainwashing and weaknesses from both of them will come into play. Who will survive and what will be left of their mental state?
Seeing as the plot of this movie hinges entirely on the shoulders of strong characters, Leland Orser and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are more than up to the task of bringing this weird story to life. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who has been taking on increasingly challenging characters) is given her meatiest role yet as Claire. Using a blend of various emotions and a constant sense that she could snap any minute, Winstead delivers a great performance in a character that you’ll think about long after the end credits have begun to roll. Meanwhile, Leland Orser is absolutely fantastic as Ansel. We aren’t necessarily expected to love his character as he’s a pretty douchey scumbag who keeps making his bad situations worse. That quality being stated, Orser is simply astounding to watch as a deprogrammer on the edge of his own sanity’s breaking point. As good as the headlining performers are, Jon Gries goes a bit too over-the-top as a flamboyant loan shark. Luckily, he isn’t given much screen time.
FAULTS is a confrontation between two unstable people. Seeing as both characters are screwed up in the head, their interactions are highly entertaining and suspenseful to watch. However, there are a couple of faults in FAULTS. Director/writer Riley Stearns jumps from a tone of quirky and funny to dark and serious and then right back to quirky and funny. These tonal shifts don’t exactly blend with the grace that he probably intended. At one point, the film seemed like it went into all-out absurdist comedic territory. It also feels like a couple of scenes might have been cut from the transition of script to the screen as we could have seen more of Ansel’s therapy sessions with Claire. This isn’t a huge problem in the film, but it does distract from some of the crazier scenes. The last 30 minutes of this movie sunk their claws into me and dragged me along through a pivotal and awesome climax.
If nothing else, you can’t deny that FAULTS is definitely an odd flick. This is not for everybody as its deliberate pace and off-kilter humor might throw a few people into having negative reactions towards Stearns’s feature debut. However, I thought this was a highly interesting and deeply strange film that held my attention from beginning to end. I was also left with more than a little to mentally chew on when the awesome ending arrived. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Leland Orser deliver two powerhouse performances. The script is so delightfully weird that I immediately latched onto it. There are some uneven tonal problems and one annoying character, but everything else is held with a steady talent for storytelling. Though it may have faults of its own, FAULTS is well worth a viewing.