Initially unfolding as a satire of uncertain magnitude, Faults sets its sights on has-been cult buster Dr. Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) – a proven expert in analyzing and ridding subjects of various sects’ hypnotic strangleholds. Limited in terms of other skills and forever haunted by one case in particular, Roth’s floundering success is worsened by his latest immodest book tour. Following a presentation gone violently awry, two desperate parents approach our man to exploit his expertise for the sake of long lost daughter, Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Is this all a simple case of snatch-and-grab reprogramming, or will extenuating factors prove insurmountable as a mystery unfolds?
Faults immediately flaunts its strengths as a darkly comic character study by way of a familiar schadenfreude approach. With Orser’s laughable Dr. Roth stricken by a stream of varying existential woes, what ensues following a first-act crux is captivatingly imbued with a tranquil but lingering uncertainty that highlights Roth’s strengths as a disgraced professional, but a professional nonetheless. The initial interplay between him and Winstead’s Claire is admirably grounded by way of execution, the majority of which somehow avoids pretentiousness given the film’s offbeat specificity of purpose.
Thus brings us to Faults‘ inherently captivating mystery. Although the issue of twisty role reversal is suggested early on, Roth’s increasingly sullied path toward Claire and her well-paying parents’ happiness ultimately forces us to wildly speculate. With a wily ex-manager and pseudo-enforcer demanding reparations procured by Roth’s messy divorce, the duo’s involvement serves only to divert our gaze while Claire’s could-or-couldn’t-be ulterior motives emerge from the shadows. From here – and if you’ll forgive the crassness – shit pops off, forcing us to forgo any semblance of preconceived clarity as things come full circle if erratically in terms of tone.
In exercising the better parts of its concise, well-informed and particularly wild narrative, Faults frequently succeeds. Stellar performances aside, Stearns’ direction yields an air of ceaseless discomfort, even as Orser’s Dr. Roth remains palpably in control of earlier interactions with his subject. Despite falling victim to a particularly jarring set of reveals during its latter moments, Faults manages to retain us viewers’ interests thanks to our presumed unfamiliarity with and unpredictability of the core subjects and topic it employs.