Faults is a 2014 drama written and directed by Riley Stearns and starring Leland Orser and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. The film is about a deprogrammer (Orser) who is working on de-brainwashing a young cult member (Winstead). The film is a serious drama, though has moments of black comedy that break up the tension, and give it a sharp and critical look at the nature of manipulation and brainwashing.
Ansel Roth (Orser) is a famous cult specialist who had written a successful book about cults and deprogramming cult members to live healthy lives as their previous selves. His career and life was ruined by the death of a cult member he tried to save, whose demise the media blamed on him for both not saving her and exploiting her for book sales. He even is so pathetic as to reuse a voucher found in the garbage to get a free meal at a hotel restaurant, and is tossed out, later leading a speaking engagement at that same hotel. At the speaking gig, he has fallen from his former glory, and just pushes his book on the audience, requesting purchases of $15 per book, plus an additional $5 for signatures.
A middle-aged couple (Chris Ellis, Beth Grant) approach him after one of his gigs, asking him to help them with their daughter, who has been brainwashed by a cult. He is reluctant, saying he doesn’t care anymore, but ultimately agrees to the job, in part because he owes a great debt to his manager. He kidnaps Claire (Winstead), using the help of a couple of hired goons, and holds her hostage in a motel room, giving himself five days to deprogram her. After that, if he cannot cure her, she is free to go wherever she pleases.
Claire is a very self-assured and calm woman, and doesn’t believe herself to be brainwashed, seeing herself as “reborn” and “Claire” as her former self, who was weak and stupid, and is now her “true” self. She explains the cult Faults as “from the faults comes a change.” Orser and Winstead share an electric rhythm with one another, as Ansel prickles with nervous energy and desperation, while Claire speaks with a serene calm and a convincing manner of her cult’s teachings.
Winstead delivers a performance with depth and intelligence, as a perceptive woman who has been brainwashed by a cult, yet speaks of it with clarity and poise. Winstead is a talented and versatile actress, who often flies below the radar of mainstream Hollywood, yet is one of its underrated talents. Orser’s performance is solid, as a failure of a man trying to hide his desperation with an insistent tone of voice, employing his methods to cure Claire and absolve himself of his previous failures.
Faults is an interesting film that, while not perfect, is a unique blend of thriller and black comedy, with two commanding performances that carry the story into an interesting slow burn of a film. It is streaming on Netflix, and I highly recommend it.