Faults marks writer/director Riley Stearns as one of the rare talents that arrives seemingly fully formed with their debut feature. As a fan of his shorts “Magnificat” and “The Cub” I entered the theater fairly certain I would be in good hands, but I was completely blown away by the control he displays over every aspect of his film. That’s not to say I don’t expect him to grow and get even better in the future, but I can probably count on one hand the amount of filmmakers who make the leap into features and land so well – every tool at their disposal already sharp – and they’ve all gone on to great things.
The furthest I’ll go in terms of a synopsis is this – Faults is a modern cult thriller cut from a slightly different cloth than contemporaries like Martha Marcy May Marlene and Sound Of My Voice (though it more than earns its place alongside those films). It shares their menacing undercurrents but also manages to be laugh out loud funny in a manner that doesn’t even come close to undercutting its central objective. That’s all you should know going in (even though the movie is certainly strong enough to withstand all kinds of spoilers, there’s no reason not to blindly give yourself over to it at least once).
It also doesn’t hurt that Stearns has a stellar cast at his disposal. Leland Orser (Seven, The Guest) is at turns hilarious, despairing and achingly wounded as Ansel, something of a cult deprogrammer. Mary Elizabeth Winstead continues to reveal new layers of command over the craft she displayed in 2012’s Smashed. Though the film is largely centered around these two, it’s buoyed by unexpected turns from Beth Grant, Chris Ellis, Lance Reddick and John Gries. All of these people click together in completely unexpected ways as the film goes about its business with remarkable clarity and specificity.
Faults is also set apart from some of its recent brethren by the manner in which it approaches and wholly understands its characters. Stearns knows exactly what makes these people tick, what eats away at them and what they feel they need in order to attain some modicum of release (perhaps even happiness). So much of what transpires is relatable and familiar that it’s ultimately terrifying. The film understands that catharsis, release and emancipation – freedom of will – are harder to come by than most people realize. And once you see how it dangles that carrot you’ll probably want to take a closer look at just how free you think you are.