Wednesday 9 September 2015

FAULTS review

The directing debut of Riley Stearns, out now on VOD is Faults, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Claire, a young woman removed from a potentially dangerous cult.

Leland Orser is Ansel Roth, an author who had a small hit with his first book examining the lure of sects and cults, and who is now forced to become a motivational speaker/travelling salesman after the commercial failure of his second book. Coasting on the small town celebrity he has been afforded, he is reduced to peddling his books and signatures for 15 dollars a go. He can't even commit suicide correctly, half-arsing it when attempting to suck on a tail pipe. Just as it appears he is at his lowest ebb when his former manager starts to recall the debt he owes him, a kind old couple ask for Roth's help in getting their daughter Claire back from a mysterious cult that has taken her from them. Roth agrees to help de-program Claire, but in his own words, "it will not be cheap".

After Martha Marcy May Marlene, Electrick Children and Sound Of My Voice, characters removed from cults and unconventional communities has become a regular narrative tool for American independent cinema, and while sexual promiscuity, their unusual teachings and worldview are familiar themes across these films, Faults tries to add some new ideas into the mix. There is an attempt to understand what drew Claire to her life in Faults rather than simply vilifying it, and through her discussions with her supposed saviour, some degree of enlightenment for the characters.

Leland Orser has been a hidden gem for a long time; a character actor with a nebbish and nervous demeanour he has displayed in everything from Seven and Alien Resurrection to last year's The Guest. Here he plays a very Jerry Lundegard-ian character in Ansel Roth, a wannabe decent man who displays his worst, desperate and manipulative qualities when backed into a corner. He is a rat under a glass who is prepared to scratch his way to freedom if necessary. In an early scene when one of the goons he has hired to bundle Claire into the back of a van hits her, Roth shows himself to be a caring man with principles by chastising the thug, but when pushed for a further reaction he backs down, his principles coming secondary to his sense of survival.

There is a supporting cast of characters of varying degrees of oddball, including Orser's The Guest co-star Lance Reddick, the always unnerving Beth Grant as Claire's semi-catatonic mother, and Jon Gries as Roth's loan shark/manager Terry. Whilst it may be a stretch to find Gries's polo-necked effeminate a legitimate threat, Reddick has that area well covered with little more than an icy stare in his arsenal.

The film is mostly a two-hander between Orser and Winstead, and is at its strongest when they are alone in the confines of the hotel room, or even better towards the climax of the film, the claustrophobic and stifling bathroom. Winstead's fresh, angelic features are used to highlight a number of themes (her infantilisation by her father, her sexual maturity tied to her separation from her parents, her manipulative power over men) and Orser is able to call upon every furrow of his brow to play increasingly desperate as strange occurrences become more and more frequent.

Billed as being from the producers of The Guest and You're Next, that tag may lead to expectations that Faults sadly can't deliver on. It has elements of supernatural horror and dark humour, but with none of the self-referential tones that can be attributed to those other two films and what made them ridiculously unrestrained success stories. What Faults is, however, is an unnerving and intriguing drama anchored by two impressive performances by Winstead and Orser. The husband and wife team of director Riley Stearns and producer Mary Elizabeth Winstead have shown themselves to be a strong creative pairing, crafting an eminently watchable and thought-provoking film with a kicker of an ending that may illicit the desire for an immediate replay.


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