99¢ Movie: Psychological Jiggery Pokery and the Cultish Joy of Faults

By  · Published on June 30th, 2015

If you’re looking for a movie to watch but don’t want to pay more than a dollar, this is for you.

Riley Stearns’ cult drama freakout Faults is worth far more than its current $0.99 rental price over at iTunes – a true two-hander that sings because of the strangeness (and familiarity) of the two main characters.

Yes, it should be praised for its discomfort and psychological curiosity, but it’s the roles that stand out most for me. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Claire, a young woman dedicated with body and soul to a group called Faults, who first appears like a small child regurgitating the homebaked koans of her group’s leadership. However, she slowly reveals the strength of her personality, intelligence and charm in a narrative situation that had to be difficult for Stearns to write and for Winstead to perform. Essentially, the character has to open herself up while purposefully trying to be evasive – she’s been kidnapped by a man hired by her parents to reverse her brainwashing and save her from the cult.

That man is Ansel, played by Leland Orser, an actor who could have gotten a Best Supporting nomination for less than 10 seconds of work in Se7en. Ansel is one part David Attenborough, one part Peter Venkman and all parts starving for free waffles. He’s a sack of desperation shoved into human skin, an expert on cults and brainwashing who has struck out on his own far beyond the safe spaces of academia on the Z-list celebrity personality tour.

For both Orser and Winstead’s performances, the key is restraint. In many ways, Ansel and Claire are abnormal. They’re heightened personalities caught in a bizarre melodrama that involves a crappy motel room, personal and professional destruction and a sense of The Beyond flavoring everything they do. What’s brilliant is that both manage to leave all of that crawling under their skin, holding back enough intensity to avoid becoming cartoons, but not so much that the tension dies down. They hit the sweet spot, delivering a story that should come with a free bottle of Calamine lotion. Plus, we’re firmly in “Meddling with the Primal Forces of Nature” territory, so the unease only serves to shove us further into the dirtiest part of the rabbit hole.

The great triumph of the movie is in doing a lot with a little. It’s a narrative question of placing an immovable object in front of an unstoppable guy with a mustache. It’s scummy and human and graceful with several intriguing twists along the way. It also makes you simultaneously want a sequel and want never to see a sequel.

Check it out, and with the money you’re saving, you can rent a 70s-built motel room to create a genuinely immersive viewing experience. Just be sure to make sure the bathroom door lock works.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.