Faults (film review by Frank Ochieng).

October 5, 2015 | By | Reply More

Writer-director Riley Stearns masterfully concocts the sinister dramedy ‘Faults’ that registers with a bizarre blend of terror and off-the-cuff cheekiness. Stearns’s caustic yet cockeyed vision into the exploration of cults and mind-control methods is gloriously wacky and makes for one of the most unique psychological dramas to register with forthright nerve within recent years. The peculiar appeal found in ‘Faults’ rests on the beleaguered shoulders of the film’s desperate and dysfunctional lead protagonist Ansel Roth (played with harried brilliance by Leland Orser), a one-time notable authority on cult activities. However, in the aftermath of some success comes the lean times when this so-called shifty deprogramming expert, now in the dumps financially and otherwise, needs to rise to the challenge and ironically escape his own self-inflicting trance.  Hence, ‘Faults’ roams into tricky territory and manages to juggle the sensitive themes of psyche imprisonment with spirited, naughty ribaldry.

Faults-poster

Deliciously dark and twisted, ‘Faults’ resonates because of Stearns’s off-key fascination with his shady characters and the compromising predicaments that ensue. As the ringleader of the crazy-minded goings-on, Orser’s Roth is seriously flawed and this serves as the devilish foundation for Stearns’s chaotic universe of unstructured disillusionment.

The easy thing to do is automatically label ‘Faults’ Dr. Ansel Roth as a down-and-out loser with questionable ethics. Sure, his credentials are somewhat boast-worthy in that he has authored a book on the subject matter regarding his expertise in the un-brainwashing of cult victims as manipulated prey.  Still, the pitiful Roth is in a precarious pickle and the only way he can redeem his dire circumstances is return to what he does best regarding his trade as a renowned psychologist. Thankfully, Roth does get that golden opportunity when an older middle-aged couple requests his services in retrieving their jeopardised daughter Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’) from the cult faction known as Faults.

For the concerned parents of the missing Claire, there is a remote sense of hope for Roth to reclaim his own disruptive existence. After all, the hapless soul needs something to overcome his personalised demons. Unfortunately, Roth fell into a tailspin in the aftermath of a former patient’s suicide during his deprogramming watch. So now this justified Roth’s jerk-like tendencies and pauper way of living. The recounting of Roth’s sad ‘way of life’ includes living out of his broken-down vehicle, mooching breakfast from an already used food voucher at a cheap motel restaurant or forcing his book on disinterested parties at scarcely attended hotel seminars. With eating packets of ketchup as a substitute meal or getting a beating at one of his hosted sessions, it appears that Ansel Roth cannot get a decent break.

Naturally, coming to the aid of the abducted Claire on behalf of her worried folks is a golden given for the weasel Roth. He can both exploit the couple’s emotional emergency for financial gain and embrace a semblance of redemption and legitimacy as the prominent professional mind-bending problem solver he once was revered in his field. Besides, his paid assignment to rescue the imperiled Claire depends on his own mortality. It is revealed that Roth owes some serious loot to his ex-manager (Jon Gries from ‘Taken’ and ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ fame) and in the process has to avoid the shakedown from one of his enforcing goons (Lance Riddick) looking to collect big time.

Leland Orser doing some FAULT-y unwiring with Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Riley Stearns's off-beat cult caper FAULTS

Leland Orser doing some FAULT-y wiring with Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Riley Stearns’s off-beat cult caper FAULTS

The notable revelation in ‘Faults’ stems from the complicated consciousness of both Orser and Winstead as the tandem trapped in an anguished grip of psychological hostility. Orser’s Ansel Roth is the broken man at the helm of self-destruction and despair. Stearns’s ironic presentation of a psyche ‘fixer’ that requires his own brand of mental repairing is oddly compelling and comical in off-kilter fashion. Orser conveys Roth as a walking disaster area whose arrogance and misguided morality shrewdly begs for some sense of sympathy and remorse. He is the main key to the orchestrated mind-numbing madness that Stearns injects into this crafty, cockeyed caper. Winstead’s Claire is transfixing as the brainwashed beauty battling the scars of bleakness. She is convincingly haunting despite her sorority girl freshness look. The supporting players in the aforementioned Gries and Riddick as well as other participants in Stearns’s concentrated center of creepiness skillfully balance the wickedness and wit felt so piercingly realized.

‘Faults’ is a resourceful black comedy that works effectively and never strays away from its pedigree of outrageous misfortune. This is one psychological character study that demonstrates its motivation for unconventional strife with devilish conviction. The inspired insane-induced performances from the film’s detached duo of Orser’s Dr. Ansel Roth and Winstead’s Claire is proof enough to not find any ounce of  perceived Faults with Stearns’s risque roller-coaster on-screen examination of violated distraught boundaries.

Faults (2014)

Screen Media Films

1 hr. 30 mins.

Starring: Leland Orser, Mary Elzabeth Winstead, Jon Gries, Lance Riddick, Chris Ellis and Beth Grant

Written and Directed by: Riley Stearns

MPAA Rating: NR

Genre: Psychological Drama/Cults and Deprogramming Caper

Critic’s rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)

(c) Frank Ochieng 2015

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Category: Films, MEDIA

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About the Author ()

Frank Ochieng has contributed film reviews to SF Crowsnest off and on since 2003. He has been published in other various movie site venues throughout the years. Ochieng has been part of The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and had written film reviews for The Boston Banner newspaper (USA) and frequently is a media/entertainment panelist on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 AM on "The Jordan Rich Show" in Boston, Massachusetts/USA.

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