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“The Welder” gets ample points for style and creativity, but this modern Frankenstein tale proves pretty parts don’t make a whole.

Co-written and directed by David Liz, with Manny Delgadillo also writing, The Welder is a tale of a latter-day Frankenstein who wants to rid the world of racism. It’s a noble pursuit, but his “solution” is as evil as the problem. 

Starting in a thunderstorm, The Welder introduces us to the main character, Eliza (Camila Rodríguez), as she navigates another episode of disturbed sleep. There are jarring keys that score this passage, underlining she is suffering from a PTSD-related problem.

Eliza, a Latin woman, is carrying a heavy load, and Rodríguez does well establishing early into the film that not all is right with her.

Eliza’s black boyfriend, Roe (Roe Dunkley), worries about her emotional state and wants to find a way to reconnect with her without stress and anxiety. Remembering the great times he had growing up and visiting his grandparent’s farm, he finds a cozy-looking ranchhouse rental online and encourages them to get away. He thinks it’s just what they need to de-stress and feel more at peace.

Even if we had never seen a horror movie, it’s pretty clear from the get-go that things will not go well for the young couple.

This is heralded loudly when Eliza’s face appears on some unseen person’s phone via her boyfriend’s Instagram feed, making it appear someone is researching them before their arrival at the rental.

The Welder establishes its creep credentials early on, creating tension and unease. 

Before Roe and Eliza arrive, an unknown figure tends to plant and fauna on the ranch with what appears to be the bloody remains of ‘something’. We get plenty of foreshadowing and anxiety-building as Eliza notices several missing persons posters on a market bulletin board, even though, as their Uber driver explains, “there are more cattle than people” in the sleepy little town. The driver also emphasizes just how secluded their destination is, in case you are in any doubt.

Eliza is frustrated by how little the place resembles the pictures online. And her comfort level isn’t helped in the least by Roe casually bringing up the property’s dark history; a man was murdered in a race-related attack.

When they enter the ranch house, its walls are covered with cultural artifacts. A note lies on the counter welcoming them and promising their host, Mr. Godwin, will greet them in the morning.

Meanwhile, someone is up to something nefarious while the couple sleeps at night.

The next morning, ranch owner William Godwin (Vincent De Paul) makes his introduction, and he immediately comes across as being slightly off. This puts Eliza and Roe further on edge as he invites them out for horseback riding to take in the full splendor of the scenic location. 

While out for a ride, Eliza meets ranch hand Don (Crist Moward, as Cristian Howard). She notices he has a bad injury on his hand, and he seems ill at ease.

As they continue the property tour, Godwin opens up about his medical background, knowledge of transplants, and the tragic passing of his wife, a woman of color. Eliza shares she also has medical knowledge gained in the army, and the film gives us plenty of hints that her time in the service was traumatic, though it seems even Roe isn’t quite sure what happened to her.

What follows is a slow ramping up of disquiet and dread. 

While out for an ATV ride to confirm, once again, just how in the middle of nowhere they really are, Roe gets a static-filled, broken call from Eliza’s mom warning them to leave. But the reception is poor, and he can’t really make out what she’s trying to say before the call drops.

A series of disorienting flashbacks start to unfold, painting a picture of women in peril — Eliza and Godwin’s ex-wife.

Later that night, as they sleep, the titular welder silently watches over them until Roe is jolted out of bed by the uncomfortable realization that the power and air conditioning have gone out in their rental.

Eliza and Roe decide to check out the good doctor’s home to see if he’s also experiencing an outage (he is not). When he doesn’t answer the door, they find it’s unlocked and let themselves in. Eliza is visibly uncomfortable being in their host’s home uninvited. She becomes more unsettled when she thinks she hears strange noises behind a locked door upstairs. 

When Godwin catches them inside his home, he cordially invites them both over for dinner. Roe doesn’t want to go, but Eliza wants the chance to figure out what’s going on in that house. 

During dinner, Godwin passionately espouses the problems of racial division and pleads for unity before oddly asking Roe what his blood type is, while Eliza excuses herself to the bathroom and sneaks back upstairs to investigate the noises she heard earlier.

There she discovers a suspicious box of trinkets and a journal before having a terrifying encounter with the welder. It seems she may be having hallucinations, but she’s sure of what she saw.

Of course, in true horror movie fashion, Eliza’s boyfriend thinks she’s losing it and doesn’t believe her. 

The Welder

Stress, after all, is a “hell of a drug.”

But Eliza has Godwin’s journal, and it’s clear he’s got some twisted thoughts in his head, possibly even intent on building a body that will somehow eliminate racism once and for all.

The premise is incredibly intriguing, and there’s a lot of disturbing imagery and well-executed tension. But be prepared for quite a slow burn. The film’s marketing makes it seem like it will be an intense hostage thriller/slasher. But it’s definitely not. 

We’re pretty far into the film before the doctor’s evil plan is revealed, and the couple ends up in real peril. Once Godwin’s trauma is revealed — the source of his psychotic break — we finally get Eliza’s traumatic history as well. Though the reveal doesn’t serve any purpose other than to set up a late Maguffin and establish why she’s chosen to bring a gun on their romantic getaway conveniently.

There are some compelling images and a really eerie, immersive score. But it really equates to nice parts that don’t entirely form a satisfying whole. 

The ending is a head-scratcher and diffuses the impact of the thought-provoking premise, which really could have been explored much further and packed a much greater punch.

It’s not a bad film, but it’s hard not to be frustrated by just how good it could have been. 

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3

The Welder is out worldwide on February 24th from Terror Films.

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