There’s a dividing line in Faults (a fault line, if you will) where the film goes from bitterly funny to something truly special. The first half of the film feels like a low-key, character-driven comedy inspired by the golden age of the Coen brothers. It’s manages a delicate balance between funny & depressing in its depictions of a once-famed cult deprogrammer pathetically milking what he can out of a complimentary hotel stay & a desperate, elderly couple who just want their daughter back. It’s an engaging slow burn of building tension, but there’s not much to conclude from this first half other than a general feeling that “This guy sucks.” As he delves deeper into his latest deprogramming case, however, Faults shifts gears and becomes an ambitiously deranged power struggle that transcends the low-key stakes of the first half of the film, but wouldn’t feel the same without them. It’s a deliberate shift that shakes the audience violently, snapping them out of the melancholy haze of the first half like a real life deprogramming.
The central power struggle between cult member & deprogrammer at the heart of Faults raises a lot more questions than answers, but the questions prove themselves more satisfying being left open ended. By the time we’ve followed the down-on-his luck deprogrammer, Ansel, as he shills a book no one wants & attempts half-assed modes of suicide, the cult member who supposedly needs saving, Claire, seems rather well adjusted. Sure, Claire makes ludicrous claims that she had sex with God or that she can make herself invisible, but she seems way better off than a once-famous man who now has to resort to stealing ketchup & 9 volt batteries to make ends meet. Claire has no problem discussing her past, saying that she was once “weak & stupid,” but has since grown as a person (and a divine being). Ansel, on the other hand, refuses to talk about his past, which is haunted by an outstanding debt & a former cult member he failed to “save”. In comparison to the rock bottom lifestyle Ansel is barely holding together, Claire’s religious organization Faults (which follows a single god, recognizes no individual leader, and encourages meditation) feels like a viable, or even preferable, way of living.
What’s most surprising about Faults is that it doesn’t allow itself to stop there. The contrasting lives lead by Ansel & Claire are merely a launching pad for the much stranger, more unnerving territory that their power struggle leads to. The conflict between the depressingly mundane and the divinely transcendent is apparent even in the movie’s sets, where strange, haunting lights invade wood paneling motel rooms & cheap diners. Words like “clear”, “free”, and “levels” make the film’s fictional cult Faults feel somewhat reminiscent of the real-life cult Scientology, but that comparison fades to reveal something much stranger in the second half as well. There’s something strange going on in Faults’ cult member vs deprogrammer power struggle that refuses to be fully understood or pigeonholed as it pushes through the expected territory of where that plot should lead and reaches for something more extraordinary. As an audience member you start to feel like the film has you sleep deprived, questioning your free will, and breaking down your personal identity just as you’d expect in a deprogramming. It’s wickedly funny in the way it manipulates you into feeling unease, but that humor does little to soften just how strange everything begins to feel once the conflict comes to a head.