Emily Humble, Tom Malloy, Chase Colman, Luciana Faulhaber and David Josh Lawrence in Trauma Therapy (Photo: Glass House Distribution)

★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Tyler Graham Pavey
STARS Tom Malloy, Chase Coleman

Are self-help gurus still a thing? I’m sure they are, but the faddishness has retreated to the point that they’re no longer a mainstay in the zeitgeist. No matter: With evangelists still carrying the banner for all those insincere evildoers who love bilking gullible people, Trauma Therapy often feels frightfully topical.

Directed by Tyler Graham Pavey and scripted by two of the principal cast members, Tom Malloy and David Josh Lawrence, Trauma Therapy revolves around Tobin Vance (Malloy), a popular guru who’s all smiles when holding public lectures but otherwise all vile when conducting private self-help seminars at his remote retreat. For his latest crash course in ostensibly bettering oneself, his youthful charges are Matt (Chase Colman), a cynic battling PTSD, Danni (Luciana Faulhaber), a soft-spoken beauty who can’t control her insatiable sexual appetite, Beth (Emily Humble), an insecure woman who lies about everything, and John (Lawrence), who suffers from, well, general wimpiness.

With his reliable assistant Victor (Vince Lozano) at his side, Tobin goes to work trying to get these kids to overcome their fears and foibles. But his methods don’t exactly involve a soothing tone and a relaxed demeanor; quite the opposite. Tobin is so vicious that he makes Full Metal Jacket’s Gunnery Sergeant Hartman seem as benign as Mr. Rogers. Wielding the word “trust” as if it were his own personal Mjolnir, he first convinces the quartet to get as naked physically as he expects them to become emotionally. Later, he manipulates them into firing a weapon at one of their own. Illicit drugs and lie detectors also figure into the proceedings. Battered and confused, these kids eventually turn on each other before wondering if they should instead rebel against their instructor.

Tom Malloy in Trauma Therapy (Photo: Glass House Distribution)

Trauma Therapy primarily draws its strength from its varied characters, all perfectly cast. Tobin Vance is a vivid personality, and Malloy plays him with the proper degree of wide-eyed zealotry — the scene in which he strips down and covers himself with leeches is particularly effective. Matt and Danni are the most interesting of the pupils, with Colman ably conveying his character’s halting insubordination and Faulhaber nicely capturing her character’s paralyzing guilt. Lozano is also memorable, hovering around the edges and lending a slight tint of menace to Victor. Brian Krause is also on hand as a potential client — viewers might remember him from his leading roles in such ‘90s flicks as Return to the Blue Lagoon and Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers or his recurring role as Leo Wyatt on TV’s long-running Charmed.

While the first two acts of Trauma Therapy are tightly scripted, there are nevertheless a few instances in which the situations and the attendant dialogue feel forced in an effort to move the story along (a confrontation between Beth and John is particularly clumsy). But it isn’t until the home stretch that the movie takes a severe tumble, with another character shoehorned into the proceedings simply to provide the necessary ingredient to an obvious and unsatisfying ending in which key players morph from susceptible to downright imbecilic.

Still, even if it doesn’t quite stick the landing, Trauma Therapy is for the most part interesting and involving. It’s also yet another reminder to beware of false prophets in sheep’s clothing — or covered in leeches, as the case may be.

(Trauma Therapy is now available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime, Vudu, and other streaming services.)

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