Obviously, the unconditional love of parents for their children knows no boundaries. So when a heart-wrought mother and father decide to hire Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) to find and “rescue” their daughter from a cult they consider to be dangerous, it’s completely understandable, even if their self-righteous piety rankles a bit.
After all, Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) may be young, but she is an adult. Still, her disappearance from the lives of her loved ones has caused profound distress, and Ansel readily accepts their case — as long as they can pay his fee. As becomes apparent in the opening scenes of Faults, a new film written and directed by Riley Stearns, Ansel is no longer living up to his reputation. He’s a bestselling author who has fallen on hard times, and he desperately struggles to present a good appearance despite his abject poverty.
When Claire’s parents approach him, he is in a particularly low state, yet he still displays a remnant of the energy and persuasion that he must have once wielded with aplomb. And his brainwashing technique is so embedded in his own mind that he easily applies it to his new case, kidnapping and then secreting Claire away in a cheap motel room for his patented five-day “cleanse.”
For her part, Claire is strong-willed but not unreasonable. She appears to be calm and reasonable, even after the traumatic snatching and confinement. Her peaceful and placid personality could represent a hollow shell of her former life — or maybe it’s a more mature evolution of her character. People change over time, though it’s usually less dramatic than what is presented here, and without seeing her in the past, it’s impossible to know whether she has changed for the better or the worse.
Her parents, of course, feel it’s for the worst, but is that simply a manifestation of their natural fears that their little girl has grown up and away from them? Again, it’s impossible for an observer to know for certain, and that’s where Ansel finds himself. He has been hired to do a job, he desperately needs the money, and he is bound and determined to do whatever it take to please new clients so they will pay him.
Stearns sets a lot of plates a-spinning in his script, creating a big challenge for him to fulfill as a first-time director, and ultimately things fall apart. But before that happens, he establishes a mesmerizing tone that is difficult to shake. Part of that rests on the strength of the performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She is warm and winning, yet also withholding, and occasionally a steely glance of coldness escapes her countenance, hinting at an inner strength that will not be rebuffed no matter what trials she may suffer.
Given the rare opportunity of a leading role, Orser delivers a complex, fully-realized character who is no longer at the top of his game. Still, there’s plenty of evidence that Ansel Roth is capable of almost anything, which lends the material an additional layer of menace and peril.
Haunting and mysterious, Faults is an imperfect drama that wavers between blackly comic moments and nail-biting tension. Whatever it is, it’s certainly memorable.
Faults is now playing a limited engagement at AMC Mesquite. It is also available to watch via various Video On Demand platforms.