“I’m just waiting for a sign from God.”
Faults, like the majority of independent American cinema, searches for a sense of originality and ubiquity by means of distancing itself from its audience. I felt like I was being watched by a creepy lifeguard at the neighborhood summer pool, shoeing me along in line until I plunged from the high jump into the depths of the story’s watered down twist ending. It isn’t predictable in plot so much as it is terribly foreseeable in structure. Like an old diving board, the buoyancy of the springs is lost to rust, resulting in a stiff film that never allows itself to effortlessly take flight and gracefully submerge under the water’s surface without a ripple. Faults certainly has its fare share of culpability, it just refuses to take ownership or responsibility for its unforced and namesake geological rifts along the way.
Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) is a lost and worthless nobody. The kind of person whose only value in the world can be found in the very first glance at himself in the mirror, before the self-loathing and disgust settles in. Ansel is a self-appointed (self is his defining adjective) expert in cults. He’s written a successful book and lost all monetary gain to his ex-wife. Now he travels – and lives – in his beater of a car. He gives uninspiring and unengaging discourses to the small crowds willing to hear him speak and staying after to overcharge the even fewer “eager” to get his autograph. If you can be a starving artist without the hunger and without the artistry, it’s Ansel.
Awoken in his jalopy following a seminar, Ansel is begged by an older couple to save their daughter. Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a vacant-eyed follower of a cult, or by her perception her newfound livelihood, known as Faults. She is deeply entrenched in the practices of her new life, farther than most that Ansel attempts to rehabilitate. The only option to save the parents’ little princess is an attempt at “deprogramming.” Ansel tried it only once before – failing miserably – and is hesitant about manning the job. But his reticence is surpassed by his mounting financial problems. The deprogramming is an amateur kidnapping followed by a five day holdup in a motel room. That’s where the movie takes the majority of its time, and where it begins to eagerly edge us along the slick finish of the diving board, hoping to gradually push us into the Jonestown cyanide sea of poison the story line takes place in.
As Ansel and Claire slowly begin interacting more, the film finds a sense of shape and identity. Faults is a cat and mouse game of control, and up until the very end you never really know who has the upper hand. But at that point I no longer cared. It’s strangely hypnotic yet has no tone, no definition. Comparable to Martha Marcy May Marlene in story but not in quality, Faults ends up being too patient and too restrained. In all honesty, I’m still baffled by the film. It’s not an arthouse feature looking to alienate its audience. All the while, it’s far from mainstream cinema. That may seem like a personal and subjective problem. However, I’d argue that films have to find a niche. They require what’s called a “stickiness factor ” to sink in and register with the viewer. Faults has no glue to keep it together. Even having taken an elective religion course in college that specifically dealt with cults, the story shows prowess in the group’s effects but fails to fully translate the manipulative psychology and hypnotism that cults always induce.
I admire writer/director Riley Stearns’ effort here though. The mood is suitably creepy and while I didn’t enjoy the film as a whole, I really admired how inescapable the ending was, how hard it was to pin down and guess. That’s helped by solid performances from the film’s two leads. Faults would have been better, and more disturbing, as a live-action short. We don’t need pointless side stories and redundant background info with these two characters. They’re transparent, but when stretched to full length they become overwrought and emulsified. Further held back by incredibly forced and rigid dialogue aiming to achieve black comedy, almost every scene feels like a table read more than an on-camera take. Faults shows future promise for helmer Riley Stearns, I just don’t think the film and its story appropriately highlights the director’s talents or that of his cast.
“Inside every single one of us is the capacity to be captivated.”
Rating: 2.5 out of 5