Ring in the new year with this underrated, darkly comedic thriller. Faults, directed by Riley Stearns, stars Solute favorites Leland Orser and Mary Elizabeth Winstead; his aura of weathered panic perfectly offsets her radiance, even as her light can change in a moment from steady to panicky strobe. Orser plays Ansel Roth, a former psychologist and TV personality now fallen on hard and undignified times. As the film opens, he’s dealt an excruciating series of humiliations. He tries to pay for his breakfast (a charge under $5) with a hotel meal voucher that’s already visibly been used; the manager eventually admits that he even saw Ansel digging it out of the trash after cashing it in for dinner the night before. He’s asked to pay for his meal, and when he can’t, he’s asked to leave. He claims he’d like to finish eating, and when the manager points out that his plate is already empty, Ansel thumps globs of ketchup on its shining surface and begins defiantly forking it into his mouth. Eventually, he’s dragged from the booth.
Welcome to Faults, an uneasy but potent combination of thriller and dark cringe comedy.
Ansel’s situation is desperate. Basically his only income comes from doing lectures in cheap motels and hand-selling his book on cult deprogramming–a pallid copy, everyone agrees, of his first, the rights to which went to his ex-wife. He owes money to his manager–a frenetic, deceptively cheesy John Gries–and the manager has sent Mick (an underused but believably dangerous Lance Reddick) to collect. When Evelyn (Beth Grant) and Paul (Chris Ellis) approach him about a job, his refusal lasts only until they find him sleeping in his car and offer to buy him breakfast. Ansel finally cracks. He agrees to do a dramatic intervention with their adult daughter, twenty-eight-year-old Claire (Winstead), who has joined an enigmatic cult named Faults. Ansel–along with some hired muscle–will kidnap Claire and hold her in a crappy motel room for about five days, during which intensive treatment may bring her back to her family.
There are a lot of places for this story to go, and Stearns keeps things interesting throughout. Despite Ansel’s currently pathetic state, it’s gradually revealed that he is, in fact, a capable psychologist, one who is empathetic and undemanding with Claire when he’s allowed time and peace in which to practice. Unfortunately, time and peace are in short supply. Claire might be wavering in her commitment, but Ansel’s manager is demanding more and more money upfront, and Paul’s relationship with his daughter is uneasy enough–he brings her only clothes from her sixteen-year-old past, for example–to set Ansel on-edge. The theme of Faults–and Faults, the titular cult–is pressure and the way people crack beneath it, for good and for ill, and Stearns’s comedy is used to deliberately twist the screws even tighter.
Faults is available free on streaming with Amazon Prime Video.