By Don Simpson | March 3, 2015
Director: Riley Stearns
Writer: Riley Stearns
Starring: Leland Orser, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Beth Grant, Chris Ellis, Lance Reddick, Jon Gries, Nicholas Tucci, Leonard Earl Howze, Kellie Matteson
Ansel’s (Leland Orser) career as one of the foremost experts on mind control has not been as financially fruitful as he had once hoped. As writer-director Riley Stearns’ Faults begins, Ansel is a washed-up television celebrity and author who finds himself desperately trying to recycle a complimentary meal coupon at a motel restaurant. Penniless, Ansel has no meals or motel rooms in his future unless he is able to sell a few copies of his newest book at his lecture on mind control and cults; otherwise, he will most likely be left sleeping in his car. Times like these, Ansel probably wishes that he knew how to practice mind control rather than just deprogram its effects.
Although he may not sell many books at his lecture, Ansel does end up with a job. A young woman — Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) — has joined a cult and her parents want Ansel to save her. They understand that the kidnapping and subsequent deprogramming have a low success rate and are very risky, but Claire’s parents are willing to take the chance. He is apprehensive about the assignment because his last attempt at deprogramming destroyed his career, but Ansel has no other choice.
Like a magician, Stearns subtly turns the story inside out. Faults does not feature any gimmicky plot twists or shocking turn of events, the narrative arc is so elegantly rendered that the slight of hand is barely recognizable. Faults deftly delves into its characters’ personalities; and while sometimes the constant reminders of Ansel’s faults and foibles may seem a bit much — as if Stearns is mockingly kicking the guy in the ribs while he is already down — it turns out that the director is quite justifiable in focusing on the cracks in Ansel’s ego. So much of this film rests solely on Leland Orser’s perpetually unraveling shoulders, but this claustrophobic character study also preys off of the gorgeously muted supporting performances of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Beth Grant, and Chris Ellis.