Palatable: Faults

Faults (2014)
Directed and written by Riley Stearns
Produced by Keith Calder, Jessica Calder, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Roxanne Benjamin, Chris Harding, Brian Joe
Starring Leland Orser, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Ellis, Beth Grant, Jon Gries, Lance Reddick
Few are so vulnerable or amenable than during a forlorn nadir, as that suffered by a disgraced expert (Orser) of cultic phenomena posterior to his career’s collapse: divorced, indebted, indigent, homeless and sleeping as often as not in his godforsaken AMC Pacer, the whilom celebrity hawks a piffling hardback feebly redolent of his prior bestseller when hosting lectures of waning attendance worsened by his peckishly petty personality. After one such seminar, an aging suburban couple (Ellis, Grant) approach him to abduct, sequestrate and deprogram their daughter, an ardent cultist (Winstead). What first seems an opportunity to reverse his fortunes by settling a debt to his brutish, onetime manager (Gries) spirals suddenly into an uncontrollable nightmare: the infamous doctor’s quietly beguiled as much by the resolve and allure of his kidnapped patient as her faith’s intrigue, while her father’s aggression intimates a paternal impropriety, destabilizing their apparent progress no less than a series of mystifying occurrences, all compounded by the pressuring presence of his creditor’s dire, dapper deputy (Reddick), who duns the bedeviled psychotherapist with veiled threats. Optimally static shots and slow zooms constitute most of Stearns’ first feature, which prepossesses at a leisurely pace wherein scarcely a penetrating, amusing or disconcerting moment’s wasted. Orser’s a seasoned character actor who deserves a lead now and again, and creates his shrewd, shallow, ruined pop psychologist at the brink of caricature, but pulls back for glimpses of insight and affirmations of his frailties and humanity. His exchanges with Winstead are as perfectly played as sharply scripted; clinician and subject gradually interchange, she leading by expounding her metaphysical convictions and aspirations, and emitting a sex appeal nearly imperceptible for its nicety. Most of the supporting players are as colorfully outstanding as costumes, sets and cars selected to lend this microproduction a fashion evocative of the early ’80s. Gries is especially memorable as the creepily effeminate professional photographer of domestic portraits, whose squeaky-clean idiolect, replete with minced oaths, contrasts with his violent temperament. A cameo whereby A.J. Bowen uncharacteristically overplays an aggrieved relative who confronts Orser’s fallen specialist at one of his pissant events should’ve been reshot entirely, and some humor during the picture’s first fifteen minutes falls flat. Otherwise, the Texan photographer turned filmmaker adroitly juggles comedy and drama with dashes of arcana all scrupulously shot, and tautly cut by one Sarah Beth Shapiro. Ironically, Stearns lost his leading ladylove to the Anglosphere’s greatest cult after Winstead divorced him in starkly hypergamous favor of a dimwitted, Scottish leading man, with whom she stridently signals her virtue to promote horrendous independent and studio productions to which she’s now committed. That’s a subject for another review or twelve; this penultimate picture in which her histrionic potential was tapped after transitioning to serious roles suggests what might’ve been, and potently portrays how privation of wealth, society and self-respect lays the mind supine to suggestion.

Execrable: Black Christmas

Black Christmas (2006)
Directed and written by Glen Morgan
Produced by Glen Morgan, James Wong, Marty Adelstein, Dawn Parouse, Victor Solnicki, Steven Hoban, Ogden Gavanski, Kent Kubena, Satsuki Mitchell, Mike Upton, Marc Butan, Bob Clark, Mark Cuban, Scott Nemes, Noah Segal, Todd Wagner
Starring Katie Cassidy, Lacey Chabert, Michelle Trachtenberg, Kristen Cloke, Andrea Martin, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Crystal Lowe, Robert Mann, Oliver Hudson
At the crest of American cinema’s hateful horror remake trend, Morgan shamefully begat this detestably deviling, uninspired retread of Bob Clark’s festal, deviously pioneering slasher cult classic, in which a bedlamite telephonically terrorizes while attritionally slaughtering the inhabitants of a sorority house, as showy, senseless, scareless dreck. Enigmatic spree killer Billy is loudly heard and scarcely seen in the original, but here fully, artlessly expatiated and disambiguated in extended, exhaustively expositional flashbacks that negative every last scruple of the antagonist’s mystery or dread. In lieu of the compelling performances, visionary plotting and operative horror that distinguished Clark’s movie from its many imitations, Morgan assails his audience’s sensibilities with spat, witless dialogue idiomatic of a Gilmore Girls episode replete with stale one-liners, Shirley Walker’s mincing score, CG flame on a roasted marshmallow and unremitting prognostics via cliched cues and composition of every feeble attempt to evoke fright. Martin’s the sole sorority sister of the precedent movie present, cast as Marian Waldman’s housemother and faring slightly better with her doltish dialogue than most of her fellow professed performers. Gorgeous, gifted Winstead and Trachtenberg also retain some hint of dignity as they tread the histrionic water of their characters’ kiddie pool; predictably, neither quite lasts an hour. Marred by a grating voice (with which she slurs her every uttered sibilant, often unintelligibly), the jutting anteriors of her meretricious mug and a downright destitution of appeal, Cassidy’s unfit as a supernumerary, much less a leading lady — a disgrace to her mad, masterfully suave grandfather — and can’t elicit a whit of sympathy as the designated Last Girl. A few gory enucleations, dismemberments and impalements are ably actualized with messy practical effects, but so idiotically ill-conceived that they scarcely warrant notice. Nearly nine minutes/one-tenth of this feature’s excruciating eighty-six were alloted to its end credits, in which a lengthy list of administrative and insurance contributions abound to eclipse those of its predecessor’s entire cast and crew as an appropriate emblem of this industry’s irredeemable dysfunction. Morgan persists in the production of pap, but thankfully hasn’t helmed a pic since.