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The Vance Institute (2023) Review

When I reviewed Trauma Therapy: Psychosis I mentioned it was a reworked version of The Vance Institute. The film was originally shot with the intent of being released in black and white with a few colour scenes. Instead, it was released all in colour.

There was also new footage added featuring Tom Sizemore (Bullet Train Down, Black Hawk Down) as the host of The Tom Sizemore Show interviewing Victor (Vince Lozano, Satanic Hispanics, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), one of the characters from the 2019 film Trauma Therapy. After Sizemore died this made a centrepiece of the film’s publicity as his last film despite there being several more of his films yet to be released.

This was shot and edited in without the participation of the original director, Lawrie Brewster (Lord of Tears, For We Are Many) who says he was assured he would have the final cut. In my review, I said I was curious what the original version was like and he was also kind enough to send me a digital copy of the original film to make that comparison.

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The difference is obvious from the start as the opening scene of a man taking a mannequin’s head off with a baseball bat only to have blood flow down its arm has a much different feel to it in black and white. It’s colder and grimmer, and a tone that is maintained throughout much of the film. The colour version certainly looks superb, especially in its blue-tinged night shots, but the lack of colour gives the film a cold edge that suits the plot.

Also notable is that The Vance Institute goes straight into the credits without the interruption of the first of Sizemore’s scenes. The scenes were apparently meant to fill the viewer in on Vance’s backstory as the first film was far from a hit. They don’t do a particularly good job of it and become a distraction, interrupting the narrative and killing the film’s momentum.

It’s also arguable that The Vance Institute works better as a fully stand-alone film. The headlines on the burning newspapers seen under the credits tell the viewer the man’s methods are questionable at best and the rest of the film fills in the details.

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The script was written by the film’s producers David Josh Lawrence and Tom Malloy who also appear in the film Malloy (Skookum: The Hunt for Bigfoot, House of Many Sorrows) as Tobin Vance himself and Lawrence (Soul Hunters, The Black Mass) as his assistant John. They’re joined by Elizabeth (Hannah New, Black Sails, Under the Bed) as they put a group of damaged people through his self-help program.

The film’s tension builds as the methods being used on lucky winners Daniel (Craig J. Seath, The Devil’s Machine, The Necromancer), Lily (Courtney Warner, The Will, Ask Me to Dance), Nicole (Megan Tremethick, Ghost Crew, The Lockdown Hauntings), Frank (Gordon Holliday, Watch if You Dare, Blood’s a Rover), and Jesse (Jamie Scott Gordon, The Unkindness of Ravens, Bonejangles) become more and more sinister. 

It also gradually becomes clear that Vance’s intentions are not to help any of them. But just what he is trying to accomplish stays hidden until quite late in the film, giving The Vance Institute an ending that’s both expected in some ways and surprising in others. And one that benefits greatly from being in black and white and recalling historical madmen with a fondness for black-clad troops.

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Both the film itself and the cast’s performance benefit greatly from not being interrupted by the talking head sequences. Tremethick’s performance as Nicole, with her character’s tragic history and brutal character arc and Malloy’s turn as the cunning and psychotic Vance, are still the film’s standouts but everyone’s performance seems better with the story flowing uninterrupted.

The Vance Institute does share Trauma Therapy: Psychosis’ two biggest story issues, the unlikelihood of the UK allowing Vance into the country, let alone resuming his practice and the late in the film introduction of a character. They would be suspect as it was, but since we’ve previously seen them there’s no mystery about their intentions. But apart from that it is a solid entry in a rather crowded subgenre and one which plays much better in its original form than in the version which unfortunately will probably be more widely seen.

In the UK The Vance Institute is available from the Hex Media website.

Our Score
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