The debut feature for writer/director Riley Stearns, Faults is about washed-up author Ansel Roth (Leland Orser), who was one of the world’s foremost specialists involved in debunking mind control techniques in which he constructs a program where he performs a “deprogramming” on cult members and returns them to their families. He once had a TV show, but after an unfortunate incident with one of his clients, his life fell apart and he's left just writing books. But now, even his book publisher is looking to break his legs if he does not pay up within the week, so one day, he is approached by two parents asking him to help their daughter Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who is also one of the producers and Stearns’ wife), who is under the influence of the mysterious cult called Faults. Having promised to be paid in full once finished, Ansel then kidnaps Claire and begins to work on “curing” her once and for all, but despite her fragile and vulnerable exterior, there’s a formidable darkness within her and a psychological battle ensues.
In contemporary cinema, the concept of cults has become an enticing trend, especially in recent years thanks to films like Martha Marcy May Marlene and Sound of My Voice, which all examined the disturbing concept of brainwashing and how some people let themselves be used and dominated with apparent ease by mesmerising leaders who promises them salvation, only to fuel their own personal benefit. In the case of Faults, Riley Stearns presents us a unique perspective by distancing away from the traditional concepts and details of the cult and instead takes us through the regenerative process of lost identity and reconstructing one’s own personality into something else. It’s through this we get in-depth character studies with both the apparent victim and the analyst each gradually revealing their own particular psychologies, their personal inner demons and the internal struggle of reclaiming one’s own freewill. The roles of victim and redeemer get turned in on its head, and Fearns’ screenplay and direction makes Faults stand out with its complexity and precision.
The film also boasts solid performances, starting with Leland Orser who brilliantly blurs the line of likeable and slimy. He brilliantly captures the portrait of a “pathetic loser” stuck in limbo and is seeking redemption, and hopefully Orser gets to be the lead in many more films in the future. However, this film really belongs to Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who completely shines as the victim/manipulator. Having impressed with films like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Smashed, Winstead delivers her best performance yet, masterfully switching simultaneously from fragile, conflicted, manipulative and seductive in the blink of an eye, putting the casual viewer through a tidalwave of emotions. Through her captivating presence and the enigmatic darkness lurking behind her eyes, she hooks you in and it’s impossible to look away from her. There’s one particular scene where Claire is attempting to seduce Ansel, which is creepy as ever. Claire is a unique and complex character, and Winstead deserves recognition for her towering portrayal.
Psychologically thrilling, yet oddly and darkly comic at times, Faults is an intense character study that gets under your skin and sends chills up your spine. Arguably, Martha Marcy May Marlene (which famously launched the career of Elizabeth Olsen) is the superior film in terms of originality and execution, but with its seedy and dirty undercurrent, Faults slithers along in fine form and perfectly raises questions to which no one really knows the answer to, and it’s with this that we can expect great things for Riley Stearns.
FAULTS / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: RILEY STEARNS / STARRING: LELAND ORSER, MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD, CHRIS ELLIS, JON GRIES / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10Actual Rating: