Cults are fucking terrifying to me. Watch Martha Marcy May Marlene and try not to be creeped the hell out. There is so much psychological warfare that goes on in these stories that it’s easy to question whether or not you would be able to resist the charms of a charismatic leader who says the right things to you at a possibly vulnerable time in your life. Hell, Scientologists have been milking this notion ever since its inception 3 million years ago to combat the evil Xenu. Films that depict cult life, the aftereffects or the process of removing someone from the grips of a cult can turn campy, silly and unintentionally funny (think of the Veronica Mars cult episode appropriately named “Drinking the Kool Aid”). The absurdity of how one falls into it is a foreign concept to many of us and that’s why they can easily stray into this territory. Riley Stearns, writer-director of the fantastic Faults, flips the script with these type of films/stories and gives us a fresh look perspective, one that is most deserving of your time this weekend.
Here’s how the story shakes out – Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) is a down and out psychologist. A former bestselling author and television show host, Roth has been reduced to shilling his knowledge at low rent motels to small, uninterested crowds. What’s his expertise, you ask? Well, he is/was an authority on cult life and deprogramming. When he delivers a seminar to a small gathering of people, Roth’s fates change at what appears to be the best possible time. Broke and aimless, Roth encounters a set of parents who attempt to enlist his help to remove their daughter from a cult that has changed her, taken her from them. At first he rebuffs their advances, but after a scary conversation with the henchman of his manager whom he owes money for his latest bomb of a book, the frustrated Roth reconsiders and jumps headlong into the job with hopes that he is able to pay off his debts. He orchestrates the kidnapping of Claire (the outstanding Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and begins the “healing” process.
What unfolds is a game of cat and mouse with Ansel using his honed techniques to gain Claire’s confidence so he can break her down enough to start loosening the grip of Ira, the leader of Faults, the group to whom she’s become attached. Ansel gives the parents five days – if he can’t change her mind by then, she’s likely lost for good. So, over those five days, the back and forth between the two (and her parents interjections) spiral into a cloud of truth and deception that leaves you guessing right up until the last scene of the film.
I was incredibly impressed with this film. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started watching it. The opening scene is quite funny, but throws a curveball as far as expectations for the rest of the films goes. The deeper we get into the film, the deeper we get into the psychological states of both Ansel and Claire and just when you think you might have what’s going on figured, Stearns shifts the stakes. That he was able to keep me guessing kept me engrossed and is testament to a great script and really outstanding performances from both Orser and especially Winstead, who truly embodies the dowdy, soft spoken Claire. II totally loved the cameo from the too-thin Jon Gries as Ansel’s hard-hitting manager. This film takes place almost exclusively in two motel rooms and has the feel of a stage play and not to its detriment. The tight set really adds an air of claustrophobia that gives air to the scenario and keeps it afire.
While this is a film that may not be on many folks’ radar this weekend, I would highly suggest it. The film hits theaters and VOD and Faults would be a nice counterpoint to films like Chappie, The Second Best Marigold Hotel and Unfinished Business opening this weekend.
So get there, people.
Here’s the trailer: