The phenomenon of cults and their followers are richly fertile ground for drama, given their inherent conflicts, insidious methods, charismatic leaders and obeisant followers, and lately they seem to be all the rage: The Sacrament, The Sound of My Voice, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Master, and TV’s The Leftovers and The Following have all examined the phenomenon from different angles. But none of those had quite the skewed perspective of Riley Stearns’ Faults.
Dr Ansel Roth (The Guest’s Leland Orser), cult deprogrammer and author of the non-bestselling book Follower: Inside the Mind of the Controlled, is having a bad day. First he hotel restaurant rejects his voucher for a free meal; then, at his sparsely attended seminar, a man accuses him of rape and murder, and punches him on the nose; and to cap it all, he’s being fired and sued by his manager of ten years. At the end of his tether – and the business end of his beat-up car’s tailpipe – Dr Roth is approached by an elderly couple (Chris Ellis and Beth Grant) desperate to help their daughter, Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who has fallen under the influence of a cult calling themselves Faults. Dr. Roth offers to kidnap Claire and take her through a process of deprogramming – which, he admits, only has a 50/50 chance of working. As desperate for help as Dr. Roth is for cash, Claire’s parents agree.
So begins what is supposed to be a battle of wills between deprogrammer and cult follower, with Dr. Roth striving to wrest Claire from the clutches of the Faults and its (presumably) charismatic leader, Ira. Of course, Dr. Roth doesn’t look like he could talk a blind man out of a busy road, much less save a self-possessed young woman out of a (presumably) sinister and insidious cult. Of course, if you know anything about writer-director Riley Stearns – perhaps you’ve seen his short film The Cub, about a couple opting to have their fifth grade daughter raised by wolves, or Magnificat (which also stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Stearns’ wife) – or if you noticed that Faults is from the producers of The Guest and You’re Next, you may suspect that things do not go entirely – or even remotely – to plan.
“To say more would be to spoil blah blah” is an awfully clichéd way to begin the final paragraph of a film review, but this really is one of those films. “Suffice to say” (another cliché, sorry) Faults is well worth your time. It’s wittily written, well directed, acted with gusto by the entire cast. If you’ve seen Winstead in Smashed, you already know how good she is (genre fans might know her from The Thing and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), but it’s really Orser’s show. He was a standout as Maika Monroe’s father in The Guest, but here he displays the same kind of quiet, tortured desperation as Bryan Cranston’s Walter White in the early years of Breaking Bad – just about the highest praise I can think of.
On the strength of this, his feature debut, it’s a good thing Riley Stearns is a filmmaker, not a cult leader, because I have drunk the Kool-Aid. Faults is my new favourite cult film.
FAULTS is out now in the US and in the UK here.