When it comes to being part of a cult, the process of brainwashing followers involves more than just taking advantage of the weak-willed. It involves manipulating emotional and spiritual needs, cutting ties to the past, and creating an illusion that there is no surviving without the cult. Trying to free someone from the grip of a cult is often monumentally difficult. This brings us to director Riley Stearns’ recently released directorial debut, Faults, which deals with this very topic.
The film follows Claire (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is under the grip of a mysterious new cult called Faults. Desperate to be reunited with their daughter, Claire’s parents recruit one of the world’s foremost experts on mind control, Ansel Roth (played by Leland Orser).
After some coaxing, Ansel ultimately kidnaps Claire and locks her into a motel room (with her parents sequestered next door). She’s remarkably calm about being held, apparently because she believes she could kill Roth easily if her cult family sent her a message to do so.
Given the evident solidity of Claire’s will, it’s surprising how quickly some of Roth’s strategies work. Soon he’s reintroducing her to her parents, finding the love she still feels for them; at the same time, Claire’s father shows signs of a domineering side that might explain why she left home.
This is where things begin to get a little weird (not that they weren’t weird already). See, Ansel is having some financial trouble. Namely, he owes his ex-manager a lot of money and if he doesn’t pay him relatively soon then he’s going to have him killed (or at least that’s what he’s being lead to believe).
With Ansel under this extra stress he seems to become that much more susceptible to the (perhaps supernatural) charm of Claire as she slowly begins to turn the tables on their makeshift deprogrammer/patient relationship. Soon enough, Claire is in full control. She convinces Ansel to murder his manager and the ending of the film shows the two driving from the motel. However, right before she leaves, Claire heads over to her “parents” room, kisses them both on the mouth, gives them each a pill, promises them that they’re headed to the “final level,” and we watch them lie in their bed and happily drift off to their death.
So, what the hell happened? The ending suggests that Claire took Ansel back to the cult, but why did she ask her “parents” to lie to trap Ansel? Were they even her parents to begin with? Let’s discuss.
We don’t know why Ansel was targeted by the cult. It’s never explained. It could have been because of his prominence as a deprogrammer, and perhaps because he was so lost as well. This seems the most logical, but it could have been for other reasons never explained. In the same way, we don’t know what fate they had planned for Ansel. Perhaps he’s meant to be just another member, or perhaps they’re going to exact revenge for his previous activities, or perhaps he has some special talent they need or a purpose in “God’s” plan.
This brings us back to Claire’s parents, who in all likelihood weren’t her parents at all, but rather, fellow cultists. Cult members who, under her guidance, pretended to be her parents so she could brainwash Ansel. At the end the “mother” tells Claire that “With his knowledge your teachings will grow beyond anything we ever could have imagined.” This seems to suggest that having a notable expert on their side will give them more power, legitimacy, outreach. It’s winning over an enemy. It’s bringing Luke Skywalker over to the dark side of the Force. One less foe against you; not to mention a sense of accomplishment; if you can win over the cult deprogrammer, you can win over anyone, no?
On the flipside, with regards to her parents, what would it mean if they actually were her parents, and she was able to brainwash and recruit her own mother and father into this cult? Perhaps Claire killed them in order to finally escape their worrying. Though, for some reason, this seems unlikely.
Overall, this movie undergoes a slow, captivating metamorphosis, scene by scene, though who’s the caterpillar and who’s the cocoon remains unclear even after the credits have rolled.
At the end of the day, one of the best things about a movie so open to interpretation is that there’s no real “solution.” And there are, of course, many ways to understand it. What did you guys think of the film and its unusual ending? Do you have your own theories or explanations? Let us know in the comment section below.