Faults (2014)

An SXSW indie flick that deserves more praise than it gets. The exit-therapy plot makes for an engaging and aesthetically minimalist thriller.

“A fault is a fracture. It’s a place where pressure builds and builds until it releases” — Ansel

Husband and Wife duo Riley Stearns (writer & director) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (producer & actress) teamed up to create Faults, a 2014 SXSW Festival film that made its way into cinemas and on iTunes after being picked up and released in 2015.

The film follows the protagonist Ansel (Leland Orser), an ‘expert’ in cults and their mind control tactics, who after being publicly humiliated is trying to get his life and career back on track. After being approached by concerned parents (Beth Grant & Chris Ellis) at one of his seminars he is tasked with deprogramming (taking back the mind of) Claire – their daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) – who has been lost to a mysterious cult. The film follows the events of the proceeding days as Ansel wrestles with Claire’s brainwashed world view in order to recover her former self for the distressed parents.

Stearns’ feature-film debut is outstanding. A beautifully written, and incredibly well shot thriller that leaves the audience guessing till the very end. Winstead and Orser, in the lead roles, dominate the screen time but to resounding effect. The minimalist structure of the film means that their dialogue drives the film forward in possibly Winstead’s best role to date. While the side-plot seems at times unnecessary and forgettable it works in highlighting Ansel’s struggles within his personal life – creating a well rounded and exciting character-driven thriller experience that requires the audiences utmost attention.

This is more than just a festival film. Drawing on the subject of mind-control, sects, and cults Stearns creates a plot that is rich in depth without giving any intimate details away. It is this mystery that drives the film, and why it cemented itself to me as an instant classic in the genre. While many cult based films are more overt in their structures, Faults covertly deals with the sensitive subject in a unique way, demonstrating the methods used in the 1970’s to transition former cult members back into modern traditional society. An angle not focused on by similar films.

Faults has cemented Stearns as an indie director to watch out for. The mind-control plot is an interesting angle, focusing on cults without explicitly giving any information about the group themselves. This dynamic makes for a mysterious and original thriller. A must see.


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