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The Leader is good, The Leader is great, we surrender
our will as of this date!

dir: Riley Stearns


There are probably a bunch of faults in Faults. You wouldn’t really put those faults down to the budget, because this flick has none. I have rarely if ever seen a movie with recognisable actors in it with as much of a budget absence as this.

Let me put it this way, in my pockets I have more money than was perhaps spent on any aspect of the making of or distribution of this movie.

It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Constraints often force film makers to come up with intriguing solutions. It’s just that the budget is so, so tiny that you have to figure the makers made it out of a deep love of the subject matter.

Or they just really, really love cults.

I’ve never been, even as a child, prone at all to the temptations of subsuming myself into any group’s loving embrace, whether it be religious, philosophical, political or otherwise. I just don’t have that belonging feeling. I’m sure the people that do get sucked into these entities probably believed likewise about themselves. I’m sure there’s a few Scientologists who still think they made the right decision to sign on for a billion years of service, and that their decision made perfect sense at the time and even to this day.

And let’s not mince words; it’s not like Mormons or Pentecostals or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Buddhists have beliefs that are any less insane than those of people who thought committing mass suicide would see them end up on a comet called Hale Boppe flying towards Blisstonia.

It’s fortunate for me that The Simpsons, the giver of so, so much wisdom over the decades, has furnished me with an entire vernacular and range of concepts that I bust out every time the topic of cults and brainwashing come up.

Of all of those rich concepts, the most applicable stems from an attempt to deprogram a brainwashed Homer, where Groundskeeper Willie, unclear as to the job he’s meant to be performing, chastises someone for interrupting the mindnumbing rantings of the devotee: “Shut up! Don’t you know he’s taking about The Leader?”

So pretty much this is what we have here: a very fragile and desperate man (Leland Orser) is called upon to deprogram a girl caught up in a cult (Mary Elizabeth Winsted) called Faults. She is calm and prepossessed. He is a mess. Who will deprogram whom?

It doesn’t help (our perception of the ‘hero’s’ strengths) that when the flick starts, said deprogrammer with the unlikely name of Ansel is seen trying to scam his way out of a $4 meal at a hotel restaurant. The scene is deliberately meant to be incredibly embarrassing for the character, and also to show us just how desperate his circumstances are. When he delivers an incredibly uninspiring presentation to a few people in a conference room, again, it doesn’t inspire confidence in his cultbusting skills.

Deprogramming people absorbed into cults would seem, based on the book he’s trying to hawk to the bored attendees, to be his bread and butter, and yet that’s the very reason it seems like he has neither any bread or any butter. So when a married couple come up to him willing to fork over a bunch of money in order to get their daughter back, we have no doubt he’ll take the gig.

Leland Orser is one of those ‘character’ actors whose name you’d probably not recognise, but if you saw him, you might. He generally plays lunatics and serial killers, or both at the same time. He’s just got that look to him, that kind of nutty, uncomfortable energy.

But you wish him well, sort of. I wanted him, somehow, to succeed at his endeavours. You kind of feel sorry him, and the deck just keeps getting stacked against him as the movie chugs along. If the dire and pathetic circumstances of his life weren’t enough, he’s also on the hook for a large sum of money to some strange gay photographer (Jon Gries) who keeps threatening him.

And he’s trying to get through to Claire. Claire doesn’t seem that messed up, but she’d have to be, wouldn’t she, to have been absorbed by a cult? Surely her parents (Beth Grant and Chris Ellis) only want what’s best for her?

Eh, maybe not so much. We get a really creepy vibe from the parents. Again, the name Beth Grant is not one you might immediately recognise, but for me she will eternally be the Sparkle Motion woman from Donnie Darko. She’s often seen in small roles, and she invariably makes a strong impression with only minutes of screen time.

As a concerned mother here, doting on her daughter in the most loving manner imaginable, yeah, well, it can’t help but feel deeply, deeply wrong about what’s going on.

Ansel’s not the problem, though. For all his desperation and sweaty aura of failure, he’s unfailingly polite and gentle with Claire. There’s never (or at least very rarely) any sense of threat against her, at least not from him. Two hired goons Ansel hires to kidnap Claire are brutish towards her, but Ansel chastises them, perhaps as a tactic to get Claire to trust him (it’s funny that ‘deprogramming’ follows a script similar to the ones some cults follow in order to suck in the vulnerable, and I’m sure that’s intended). And, despite her openness, let’s say, she seems to be at more risk away from the cult than with it.

We start to wonder: hey, y’know, that cult doesn’t sound half bad! Maybe Claire should not have been kidnapped and held against her will in the shittiest possible hotel room in all of Christendom. And why do her odd parents insist that she dress in clothes she probably hasn’t worn since she was a young teenager, clothes clearly too small for her (the character is, I’m guessing, meant to be in her mid to late twenties)?

Hmm, odd, very odd. Most of the flick transpires in that shitty hotel room, and it’s probably a necessity (from having no money to film virtually anywhere else other than a hotel that probably charges by the hour for people who don’t care about the décor and aren’t going to get to know each other that well before parting ways). It’s even down to lighting and costuming choices. Everyone looks like they’ve stolen their clothing from a Salvos / St Vinnies bin. Makeup is whatever you brought with you or whatever’s in your pockets. Lighting is… I dunno, a torch and whatever light is around?

These aspects actually add, in a way, to the oppressive atmosphere. For most of the flick, let’s say the first third and the last third, the film persists in this grim pool of Ansel’s awful circumstances. There is, however, that middle section where I am unsure what actually went on, where Ansel himself isn’t really sure of what’s going on. He’s also getting increasingly desperate, and you’d think that’s not a good thing, but it’s great from a dramatic perspective, and it really builds to an effective and sardonic climax. The ending is shocking, but isn't what you would call a twist kind of ending. No M. Night Shyamalans were injured in the making of this movie, but then maybe they should have been.

The vast majority of the film is two-hander scenes between Claire and Ansel. Mary Elizabeth Winsted and Leland Orser have a great rapport, and those scenes have an effective believability (despite the fact that a lot of things start happening where it’s unclear whether they’re imagined or whether they’re actually going on). This is not a flick about mentally ill people (at least, not mental illness to the level where people are hallucinating or whatever due to psychosis or whatever, but then again, now that I think about it, maybe I’m not completely right about that).

There is this central ‘fault’ in Ansel, something that went wrong before, that casts a deep shadow over his existence, more so than any financial misadventures or other mistakes made. It’s important, despite his nervous energies, that he still be seen as an essentially “good” person in what he’s doing, even if he increasingly seems more desperate and selfish as time goes on. At least for much of the time we’re meant to believe that he does actually have Claire’s best interests at heart.

I think the flick was mostly done as a showcase for Winstead, who just so happens to be married to the director (I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that she was hired for the central role, but you never know; hate to think what the ‘casting couch’ was like!), and that’s okay. She gets to play a number of different kinds of roles over the course of the flick, and she’s consistently strong in all of them (despite how weird things get towards the end).

I know that there’s a lot of (intended) humour in this flick, but really, Ansel’s desperate circumstances and anxious misery aren’t really the source of most of it, though there are times when he seems like the only sane person in a madhouse (it’s an illusion, I assure you). It is, in some ways, quite funnier than it would appear to be, or that I’ve implied in my review. It’s a very small scale kind of film, but enjoyable if you want to watch something offbeat and odd instead of something predictable and easily digestible.

7 times the faults are not in ourselves, but in the stars, Brutus, the stars out of 10

“A fault is a fracture, a place where pressure builds until it releases. One day I will be a mountain, but for now I am a fault.” – it’s good to have goals, though you’re more likely to become a pretty ballerina than a mountain, truth be told - Faults