Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Faults: a Bargain Basement Deprogrammer in Over his Head
do not use an initial article. Claire’s cult merely refers to itself as “Faults.”
“From a fault comes a change” they like to say—and they seem to think a big
apocalyptic one is coming. That is why they do not have time for children, or “parasites”
as they call them. Okay, that sounds a little creepy, but it still isn’t as
nuts as Xenu and the thetan madness. Her parents will hire a disgraced cult
expert to deprogram her, but nothing will go according to his plan in Riley
Stearns’ Faults (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
Roth was once a bestselling cult investigator with his own television show, but
a case that went sour cost him just about everything. He now lives a
hand-to-mouth existence giving seminars in third-rate hotels, where he transparently
hawks his self-published follow-up book, to pay back Terry, his loan shark-ish
manager, who fronted the printing costs. Who would attend his speaking
engagements? The truly desperate, like Claire’s parents, Paul and Evelyn.
Roth had essentially quit the de-programming business, he agrees to help the
couple, largely due to the motivation supplied by his manager’s enforcer. Yet,
as soon as he abducts the young woman and commences the process, strange
complications start to arise. Claire is unusually calm and pre-possessed,
answering his questions without a lot of rhetorical contortions. On the other
hand, her parents start to acting in suspicious ways that might suggest a
history of emotional and perhaps even sexual abuse. Nevertheless, Roth is under
pressure to get this deal done, so he can pay off his overdue debt.
the potentially lurid nature of its subject matter, it is rather impressive how
low-key and subtle Stearns’ treatment is. He takes his time establishing Roth’s
bitter and nebbish character through some wickedly droll black comedy. The
stakes are considerable throughout the chess game he plays with Claire (played
by Stearns’ real life wife, Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but when things take a
macabre turn, it is more amusing than alarming. Granted, we have seen many variations
on the film’s big twist before, but the smaller helper-twists are quite clever.
is shame award season never seriously considers genre films, because Leland
Orser’s lead performance merits that sort of attention, just like the dynamite
Nick Damici in Late Phases. He
masterfully alternates between comedy and tragedy, without breaking stride. He
and Winstead crackle together in their sparring sessions. Lance Reddick (the
hotel manager in John Wick) is also all
kinds of hardnosed as Terry’s muscle, Mick, while John Gries chews plenty of
scenery as his weird boss.
There are several spots in the third act Stearns
could have played up much bigger, but that matter-of-factness makes the film
quickly appreciate in viewers’ consciousness, in retrospect. Look, sometimes
less really is more. In fact, Faults is
a cool example of how a highly effective genre hybrid can be whipped up on a
limited budget. Aside from maybe one sequence, the whole thing could have been
shot in a low-rent motor lodge. The finished product is a great showcase for
Stearns and his consistently strong ensemble of character actors. Highly
recommended, Faults opens this Friday
(3/6) in New York, at the Cinema Village.
Labels: Leland Orser, Movie cults