Faults, an out of the mainstream effort detailing an attempt to rescue a young woman from a cult, appears to have been made in the 1970’s as an ABC Movie of the Week and kept in a time capsule until its release on the festival circuit in 2014. Take the stray cell phone and the recent automobiles out of the picture, and you have a period piece that is better suited for a time and place that no longer exists.
Kids into cults seems a bit passé. The hippie phenomena of the 60’s spilled over into the communes of the 70’s, and parents saw their children play out the ageless act of rebellion first through drugs and then through philosophies; in either case, it meant the young leaving the old behind. While cults remain a phenomenon, they generally break into the mainstream press now only through apocalyptic predictions or tragic acts of self-destruction.
Inadvertently, Faults takes us back, but not merely through its central premise. The majority of the action occurs in a motel room that screams post-Watergate America; you wait for the TV in the room to begin showing Tic-Tac-Dough at any moment. An expert on deprogramming, Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) is hired by the parents of a young woman who has joined a mysterious cult to alternately badger and bore their baby into submission in this motel and ensure a meek return to conformity. Roth has little choice but to accept the parents’ offer as he is deeply in debt to his agent, Terry (Jon Gries), who doubles as a loan shark. Terry lent Ansel a considerable sum to (A) finance his gambling addiction, (B) pay off the medical bills for his cancer-stricken mother, or (C) self-publish a book. Um, would you believe C? (Okay, time-check time, boys and girls: cost of self publishing in 2014? Approximately zero dollars.) Ansel’s previous book on cults was quite successful, but he gave the royalty rights away in a divorce settlement.
The screenplay for Faults merits study by aspiring writers everywhere as a clinical example of the dangers of over explaining. Ansel being deeply in debt is enough. Ansel being deeply in debt to a loan shark would have also sufficed. More than that is unnecessary. Much more than that is ridiculous.
Riley Stearns wrote and directed the film, which explains the presence of his spouse, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, in the role of Claire, the young woman who joined a group that goes by the name of Faults. We learn little of the belief system of Faults, other than the predictable sense of belonging, caring for one another, yada, yada, yada. Winstead does a nice, understated turn here, conveying a sense that she is always one step ahead, occasionally two or more, of Ansel and her own parents (fairly portrayed, albeit in a standard 70’s interpretation, by Beth Grant and Chris Ellis). Lance Reddick steals the few scenes he’s in as the loan shark’s leg breaker, Mick. Reddick, best known for Fringe, is so good here, that each time he starts to go off camera, you want to yell, “Wait, where are you going? Take me with you.”
The real star of Faults though is Orser, and he’s never better than in the opening of the the movie. The start plays like a Quentin Dupleix movie, a poetic study in awkwardness, featuring a prima donna loser. Ansel Roth is reduced to fishing used dinner vouchers out of the trash bin to try and score a free meal that otherwise would have set him back $4.70. He is looking to get even with a world that has shown him the back of its hand by stealing the hotel dolly he uses to reload the unsold books into the back of the car in which he sleeps.
A character like this is worth a watch, and Orser makes the most of his moment in the sun. Faults has its, yeah, faults, but the lead actor is not one of them. Unfortunately, the film gives out well before he does. The ending may be meant as a surprise, but seems more an inevitability. It’s certainly not annoying, somewhat entertaining, but, for those of a certain age, may have you reminiscing about staying up for Johnny after the news.