Originally published on May 13, 2015. Faults is now available on Amazon Prime’s streaming service.

Overview: A financially strapped cult expert is hired to deprogram a young woman, but he soon finds himself in new territory when her beliefs prove far more dangerous than he suspected. 2014; Screen Media Films; NR; 89 minutes.

Indoctrination: A large part of what makes Faults such a unique look at cult behavior is screenwriter/director Riley Stearns’ delicate tonal balance. Advertised as a film from the producers of The Guest, Faults has a similar multi-genre feel, though I think the transitions between genres in this film are smoother, ultimately allowing the twists to feel more unexpected. Stearns eases viewers into this world with truly funny moments of dark comedy that feel completely natural, no small feat considering how challenging the subgenre has proven to be. There’s a level of trust that’s invited between the film and the audience, so even as the black comedy slips away, there’s never any doubt that Stearns is in complete control of the narrative. Yes, the rug will be pulled out from under you, but by the time it is you’re so invested in the film that you’ll welcome the manipulation.

Limits of Control: Faults is mostly lacking in visual flourishes and the majority of the film’s action takes place in adjoining motel rooms, a deliberate and generous directorial decision that allows the performances to stand out. Leland Orser’s cult expert Ansel Roth is a pathetic man but not so pathetic that his faults aren’t so unrecognizable that we can’t sympathize with him. He constantly seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown as a result of his personal and professional life, factors that allow the tables to be turned on him by cult member Claire. I’ve been a fan of Mary Elizabeth Winstead for some time, and over the last few years she’s been delivering quite the range of emotionally gripping performances. Her performance as Claire, which in the hands of a lesser actor could have become exaggerated, is measured, each calculated move unsettling. While the carefully framed scenes and plot set-up suggest control, the script and performances tear away at the idea, posing questions of free will and inner-selves. The end result is a tense juxtaposition between image and content with shocking results.

Becoming Free: Ansel Roth puts the film’s themes best when he says, “A fault is a place that builds and builds until it releases.” Not only is this statement true to him as a character, but it’s also true for the film. Embedded in the film is the eerie suggestion that Claire’s cult beliefs may be in fact be a reality, and the narrative builds up this idea carefully. It’s a fantastical plot element that could have potentially betrayed the film’s intentions and turned it into B-movie horror, but instead the idea is made credible by trickling out slowly (not so much unlike the inexplicable bloody noses that Ansel and Claire suffer from throughout the film). The secrets that are released by the film’s end prove so disturbing that it’s difficult to remember having ever laughed during the film’s beginning. As the credits play over a blank screen in silence, the suggestion of what comes next for this world is perhaps the most troubling of all.

Grade: A-