FrightFest 2014: Faults (4 stars)

FrightFest 2014: Faults

Riley Stearns' debut pitches a cult expert against a traumatised follower with interesting results

It’s not often you see a film where you have literally no idea what’s going to happen next. That’s one of the main reasons people seek out dark-side cinema, and it’s one of the appeals of American writer-director Riley Stearns’ intriguing feature debut. Faults has its UK premiere at FrightFest, the Glastonbury of dark-side cinema, but it’s not really a horror film so much as a black comedy drama from which horrors might erupt at any moment.

You’ll recognise Leland Orser (an underrated performer with a great name) from Seven and Taken, but he’s the kind of character actor who’s never had a leading role as good as this. Here he plays Ansel Roth (another great name), a supposed cult expert tasked with deprogramming traumatised follower Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Stearns’ wife) in an anodyne motel room. But gradually the film makes you question who’s brainwashing who.

Beginning in Todd Solondz territory, with the ritual humiliation of Ansel, a sad-sack Willy Loman/David Brent-alike character, Stearns shows a keen eye for indignity and a keen ear for dialogue. It’s only once we’re in the room with the two main characters that more sinister shadings emerge. 'I’m thinking about how I want to rip the tongue out of your head so you’ll shut up,' Claire tells Ansel. 'That is understandable,' he answers weakly, 'I’m going to move back right now'. Then something really strange happens.

Crisply shot and expertly played, the film is essentially a two-hander built on shifting sands of trust and unease. For the most part there are only the vaguest supernatural rumblings, but Stearns’ skill is creating a mundane universe where anything’s possible, and all this in one motel room. 'I’ve got no idea of what any of this is anymore,' despairs Ansel. Dark-side cinema connoisseurs will, happily, concur.

Screening at Vue West End, Leicester Square, London on Sun 24 Aug as part of FrightFest 2014. General release TBC.

Film4 Frightfest

Horror movie festival running over five days. Opening with Adam Wingard's new film The Guest.


  • 4 stars
  • 2014
  • US
  • 1h 29min
  • Directed by: Riley Stearns
  • Written by: Riley Stearns
  • Cast: Leland Orser, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jon Gries

Ansel (Orser) is a supposed cult expert tasked with deprogramming traumatised cult follower Claire (Winstead), but it becomes increasingly unclear who's brainwashing who. Crisply shot and expertly played, it's not so much a horror film as a skilful black comedy drama where you have no idea what's going to happen next.