“Faults” is a film that belongs to no one genre, or at least not one readily identifiable. While my favorite part of the film was certainly its elements of character study, there’s also much to be said of its black comedy and thriller-esque scenarios. Some media outlets go so far as to name it an inventive horror film, thanks to its supernatural themes. The film’s ability to break from genre formulae is both its most intriguing aspect and eventually its greatest flaw.
The plot follows Ansel Roth (Leland Orser), a down-on-his-luck everyman who claims to be an expert on cults and mind control. He attracts the attention of an old couple seeking intervention for their daughter, Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Roth proposes they deprogram her, separating her from Faults—not the Faults, just Faults, as Claire informs Ansel—and forcing her to reconsider her lifestyle and choices in a remote location.
On top of it all Ansel owes money to his eccentric agent, a detail that had the potential to dilute from the main plot. Instead, the chaotic situation is executed well-enough to provide plenty of tension to the film, while giving the audience time to empathise with the characters.
The technical facets of the film seem muted, with no soundtrack and a rather basic approach to cinematography. The camerawork does as little as it can to depict its scenes, with the exception of only a few moments (including a nightmare sequence). I imagine all this was done to let the audience more closely relate to the characters and events depicted on screen, no matter how ridiculous either may become.
A few of the characters, most notably Claire’s parents, also seem intentionally forgettable, leaving only Claire and Ansel in our focus.
Having known Winstead was married to the director, I expected her performance to fall at either end of the spectrum, either terrific or terrible. Instead whatever talent she provides is overshadowed by Leland Orser, who blends wholly with his character, producing a character that is the film’s most promising asset. I’m not sure director Riley Stearns was aware of this during production. My interest, and I imagine that of other viewers, diminished whenever the film would shift focus away from him.
The progression of “Faults” is yet another of its atypical aspects. Where most films might present an obstacle for its protagonist to conquer—a metaphorical mountain—“Faults” more strongly resembles a snare, slowly winding tighter and tighter around our main cast. Even Ansel’s more level-headed decisions seem to worsen or complicate the matter, putting him at odds with others.
For all that the film sets out to achieve, it limits itself to ninety minutes, a slightly daunting feat for any studio, let alone an independent one. Just when I thought I could predict the direction the script was heading, it would veer off sharply, sometimes even playing off potentially supernatural elements.
It’s fun at first, but the recurring genre twists can mar the pacing of the film, occasionally draining its energy. For a film that’s at the very least interesting through the entirety of its duration, it’s a shame when it quickly concludes with a left-field ending.
Ultimately “Faults” is greater than its own. Its ability to challenge a multitude of cinematic conventions is enough by itself to warrant seeing the film in theaters. Above all else the film is elevated by the outstanding performance of Leland Orser, who creates a protagonist that is all at once desperate, relatable and human.