(And why the hell not?)
Brisk, tight, suburban—this horror-thriller hybrid feels like half a dozen other films, but manages to end up with an identity all its own. Daniel Collins is an American veteran returned home from the wars. He appears on the doorstep of the Peterson family, who have lost their son in Afghanistan. Collins brings a message from their departed, as he was present at the final moments. He’s invited to stay with them, for a while, unsettling 20-year-old Anna and 15-year-old Luke. Dan Stevens—well known as the lumpy Crowley in Downton Abbey—conveys a range of sinister emotions with odd fish eyes and a thousand yard stare. His face turns stony at odd moments, and his performance, the kind that always goes unnoticed—an intriguing turn in a b-movie—is a marvel. Collins begins reshaping the lives of his adopted family, only in the most macabre way possible, through murder and deceit and incarceration. (For the first forty minutes, the movie is a very close analogue to the French film, A Friend Like Harry.)
But Anna’s suspicions lead her to make a single phone call, which alerts a shadowy, private military organization into action. Led by Lance Reddick, a team of shooters converges on the small southern town, and all pandemonium breaks loose. The movie is an astonishing visual spectacle, conveying almost all of its drama and most of its information through images. And excellent synth music.
It has the flow and feel of Halloween—in fact, I kept thinking, this is the movie John Carpenter should have made after They Live!—as well as other movies, like Universal Soldier, The Terminator, Drive. Imagine short stories conceived by Ray Bradbury but rewritten by Denis Johnson, and then adapted to screen by Wes Craven, before being filmed by Nicholas Refn. It’s a glorious, ridiculous pastiche. And when the climax takes place in a high school gymnasium repurposed for a Halloween dance—with a makeshift labyrinth, driving synth-pop score, and intentionally cheesy scares, reminiscent of The Shining and Halloween II—you know you’ve seen something. But. The movie has a political subtext too. The sillier elements underscore the movie’s political point of view, conveying the reality of U.S. military atrocities, intrigue, and outright lies.
A wild blast of neo-eighties action horror. With great music.
Three of the actors from The Guest star in The Faults, and there are only five characters. There are other similarities, especially in the excellent visual scheme. Leland Orser, a very fine b-movie actor whose heyday was the cheap scuzzy crime movies of the 1990s, absolutely kills as the lead, a disturbed cult de-programmer and former celebrity named Ansel. He ekes out a living giving small-town speaking engagements while fending off his former manager, who is extorting money from him. The manager’s weapon of choice is Lance Reddick, who has one of the great lines of recent b-movie history: “See, I don’t have a gun? It’s because I don’t need one.” Ansel is hired to deprogram a lost 28-year-old woman by her creepy parents.
The bulk of the film occurs in adjoining hotel rooms, a physical and metaphorical space that turns fuzzy and ontological as the talk sessions reveal psycho-sexual fissures in Ansel’s brain.
We’re in that crepuscular dreamspace where the American drive for success and meaning turns into a nightmare. The parents grow stranger and stranger as the movie progresses, staring off into space or exploding in anger. The victim regresses into a childlike state and then back. Locked doors open. Impossible imaged flicker across the television screen. And it all feels like the unraveling of Ansel’s mind, but it might actually be happening. One of the strongest indie/small movies I’ve seen in some time.
The Faults is ultimately about power, who has it, how to use and how to abuse it. Power isn’t about appearances, or isn’t just about appearances; power is about superior understanding and insight. Weakness is ultimately in the mind. The Guest traffics in similar ideas. Collins is immensely powerful in the physical world, but trapped in an internal sequence that forces him to do things he doesn’t want to do. In the movie it’s a clear metaphor for military training, but just as easily stands in for any ideology. (Hail Stefan Zizek, eh?)
So ideology is easily hidden, but not easily escaped. I love when movies with nothing in common traverse similar internal ground.
You can’t deprogram loneliness or depravity.
And why not? It’s written and directed by James Mangold, the skilled, if just a touch square, filmmaker who made the very fine The Immigrant two years ago. The movie follows a large group of characters in a tiny town outside New York City, where the bulk of the residents are city cops. The city is run by a high-ranking police, played by Harvey Keitel, who runs some type of criminal enterprise while wearing a badge. The sheriff is a half-deaf, seemingly simple Sylvester Stallone, who gives a pretty good performance. There’s a crime, a cover-up, and Internal Affairs begins to investigate. It’s a solid crime drama, terse, fun to watch, with some intriguing performances. Ray Liotta is pretty damn good in it, and it’s one of the last movies where Robert De Niro really cuts loose. (He has this great scene where he’s chewing out Stallone in-between taking bites of a sandwich he’s not enjoying; it’s wonderful.) The movie doesn’t turn away from the urban tensions of race/crime/police/money, and there’s plenty of subtext in the casting. Flawed, yes, a bit hokey in the last five minutes, sure, but better than you remember.
The inevitable shootout, but an intriguing movie nonetheless.