A different kind of cult movie: Film takes on religious cults

Religious cults seem all but designed for easy scriptwriting. The conflict and human drama are built into the situation, it is easy to establish an antagonist and a victim, and the potential for an emotionally charged escape or rescue scene is always there. A good storyline can add the larger questions of control, community, spirituality, and truth to the mix. Some of the best examples of films dealing with cults have taken strikingly different approaches to the subject. Here are a few that stand out.

Faults

“Isn’t that easier than thinking?”

Faults (2014) is a tragic/comic study of the often fictionalized profession of cult deprogrammer. Unlike many dramas about manipulative and domineering cults, which tend to follow the progress of someone who has either escaped from a cult or been forcibly removed from one with the clear goal of breaking free, Faults makes room for all the complications and ambiguities which can come from a clash of imperfect human beings coping with a variety of issues, from free will and human autonomy to money and power.

Our central character, Ansel (Leland Orser), is a complete failure in every area of his life. He once had modest success as the author of a book on religious cults; but since a fatal mistake while conducting a ‘deprogramming’ session years earlier, his fortunes have declined sharply. He is in debt, conducting badly attended seminars in seedy hotels in hopes of selling old copies of his book, trying to outrun his ruined reputation and his debts. He is hopeless, and even occasionally and ineffectually suicidal, but Orser plays the character as comically pathetic rather than tragic.

Following a particularly disastrous seminar, Ansel is offered an unexpected opportunity. An older couple approach him, requesting his help with their daughter, Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who has joined a new and esoteric cult known as Faults. Claire’s membership in Faults has resulted in her cutting all ties with her parents….

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