The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



A college creative writing professor used to emphasize the importance of an opening line. The right beginning will hook the reader, she said, making them eager to learn more. The same could be said for the opening scene of a movie. Faults has an especially good one. A man sits alone in a restaurant. He attempts to use a voucher to pay for his meal, but the manager remembers him from the night before and recalls that he already used it. He asks the man to leave. The man says he will not leave until he is finished eating. Glancing down and seeing his empty plate, he pours out a huge glob of ketchup, then begins devouring it. Right there, you want to know more about who this guy is and why he's so pathetic.

The man is Ansel Roth (Leland Orser), an expert in mind control and cults. His career has fallen on hard times – hence the restaurant incident - and he owes a great deal of money to his agent, Terry (Jon Gries). Terry's right-hand man, Mick (Lance Reddick), shows up to threaten him. The chance to score a much-needed payday arrives when he is hired by a couple to rescue their daughter from a bizarre cult that she's fallen in with. Ansel arranges for the woman, Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), to be snatched and taken to a motel, where he will spend five days “deprogramming” her. Claire is a member of Faults, a group with strange, nebulous beliefs. She thinks that God gives her orders and talks of some important pending event. Ansel tries to break her out of her mindset, only to discover that Claire does not budge in her beliefs easily. She's convinced that she's right.

Ansel talks a lot about free will in Faults, and that's the basic theme of the movie. Writer/director Riley Stearns explores what free will really means, as well as whether we actually have as much of it as we think. The main character believes that Claire has been robbed of hers by the cult, but he somehow fails to realize that he's been robbed of his own, too. By becoming indebted to someone else – not to mention indebted to the pressures of a career in which he presents himself as an authority – Ansel has his actions dictated to him by necessity. He's a guy with little free will trying to restore free will to a woman who has chosen her own path intentionally and is, by her own account, quite happy. That's a juicy irony, one that Faults presents with wicked dark humor. As Ansel digs himself in deeper, you can't help but laugh, because he's the architect of his own demise.

Leland Orser is one of those actors. Even if you don't know his name, I guarantee you've seen something he's been in. Orser does career-best work here, creating a character who is bitter, deluded, desperate, and yet somehow still empathetic. The pressure's on to cure Claire, both because he needs the money and because he can't stomach another failure. Orser makes his plight come alive. This is a great character study of a man on the precipice of ruin.

Of course, the other key component here is Mary Elizabeth Winstead. I'm not saying much about her character for reasons that will become clear when you see the film. Let's just say that it's a deceptively complex role, and the actress nails it. Winstead perfectly walks a line so that we feel Claire has deliberately chosen to have participation in Faults, even as she espouses some baffling beliefs. Again, there's twisted humor in Claire's relationship with Ansel, in that they're essentially arguing whether or not she's in her right mind. Scenes between Winstead and Orser really keep you on your toes as to which character you should side with.

If anything, Faults could have gone even deeper with its ideas. The movie runs a brief 89 minutes, so there was room to take things a bit further. This is especially true in regard to the third act. There are glimpses of strange, borderline disturbing things that propel the film to its shocking ending, while still making you wish you knew a tiny bit more about them. Nonetheless, Faults is a hypnotically offbeat movie, mixing pitch-black humor and thematic ambition in a way that's difficult to resist. Fueled by two terrific performances and a smart script, it's a picture you'll be thinking about for days afterward.

( out of four)

Note: Faults is in theaters and also available on VOD. Check your favorite provider for availability.

Faults is unrated, but contains adult language, some sexuality, and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.

Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.