The Vance Institute (2023)

Director: Lawrie Brewster

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Starring: Hannah New, Tom Malloy, David Josh Lawrence, Courtney Warner, Megan Tremethick, Jamie Scott Gordon, Gordon Holliday, Craig J. Seath

It is an understand to say that The Vance Institute had a tough journey to reaching viewer's screens. A version of the film was released in 2023 under the title Trauma Therapy: Psychosis, although it is telling that director Lawrie Brewster had his name taken off that release - a cut which he considers "an unauthorized re-edit" of his film. When the opportunity arose to view the original cut, I took the chance out of curiosity and found the differences between the films clear from the opening moments.

On the run from the police, self-help guru Tobin Vance (Tom Malloy) has escaped to the UK in order to continue his secretive retreats. As five participants are selected to be part of a training program, they soon discover that nightmares await them disguised as promises to help better them. While the story may remain the same, the way it is approached is vastly different, allowing plot points room to breathe without exploitative inclusions which capitalize on Tom Sizemore's passing. The most notable difference is how, barring a striking moment presented in full colour, the film unfolds in black-and-white to make the unfolding horrors feel all the more stark.

Screenwriters/stars Tom Malloy and David Joshua Lawrence take aim at real-life organizations that promise so much while requesting penance, as the manipulations of Vance and his employees offer the participants resolution through physical and emotional torment. An early scene sees the group instructed to bring an item linked to their troubled past, only to be told that destroying it is their first step towards healing. The opposite is evidently clear in Vance's actions, using demeaning words like "weak" to anybody not blindly following his orders.

Among the group are the outspoken Jesse (Jamie Scott Gordon), whose time is spent investigating the institute, abuse survivor Nicole (Megan Tremethick), and the perpetually bullied Frank (Gordon Holliday). While some of them are disgusted at the methods employed, the influence of Vance and his cult proves persuasive and leads to some falling under their spell. While moments can arise where performances feel out of place, the cast decently capture these figures who are central to this unfolding terror.

The influence interestingly spreads to the employees also, as Vance finds his leadership questioned at times, although this element does feel unresolved by the time credits roll. Perhaps that thread is intended to be followed-up in a sequel? It is worth mentioning that some issues remain within this cut, as the scene of the participants revealing why they are there remains a hurdle to overcome in the name of set-up instead of a key moment of understanding. Despite such reservations, The Vance Institute is undoubtedly a stronger work than the retitled release.

The Vance Institute is now available to stream on Prime Video