Faults got under my skin, quickly, and stayed there for every second of its brisk 90 minutes. In the opening shot we meet Ansel Roth (Leland Orser), a past-his-prime cult specialist and deprogrammer, inventively attempting unsuccessfully to squirm his way out of a lunch bill. It is awkward and unsettling, even the funny moments, such as Roth forking globs of ketchup into his mouth as a form of protest – think Michael Scott only much more sour. Roth, in desperate need of cash in order to pay back a loan, accepts a job in order to deprogram the brainwashed cult member Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Riley Stearns (husband to Winstead) has delivered a directorial debut that works as a lot more than a thriller, although it certainly thrills.
Stearns is relatively unobtrusive visually here, focusing his efforts on letting the actors work and allowing his script to do much of the heavy lifting. I should mention here, though, that he is calm and confident behind the camera, and has a real knack for using particular lighting to set mood. And my, is Faults effective as a mood piece. Stearns’ script is constantly shifting and mutating into an entirely different beast, with Orser and Winstead keeping up sharply every step of the way. It begins darkly funny, with unsettling and black undercurrents sniffing around the edges, and ultimately morphs into a claustrophobic, disturbing horror film. This is largely due to Winstead’s constantly mysterious performance. As good as Orser is (and he is very good) she creates the mood of doom as much as Stearns’ long, slow, perpetually zooming takes. She brings a loose fluidity to the role, giving her character an unknowable quality, which is great as much of Faults‘ drama stems from us in the audience asking, “Who is deprogramming who?” This is brisk, twisted, moody stuff. Directorial debuts are rarely this smart, or this good. Faults is part comedy, part thriller, but its Lynchian underpinnings and playful toying with the idea of free will ensure that it’ll stick with you after its thrills are through.
★★★★ out of 5