“The Unhealer” Comes to Shout! Factory’s VOD Lineup
Martin Guigui’s The Unhealer is now available nationwide on VOD services, as well as blu-ray through Shout! Factory’s ever-extending library of films. The film follows Kelly Mason (Elijah Nelson), a high-schooler with Pica who gets bullied regularly who lives alone with his mother Bernice (Natasha Henstridge) when a dubious self-proclaimed miracle healer Pfleuger (Lance Henriksen) attempts to cure Kelly of his condition. The result is nothing short of bizarre for Kelly and Bernice as he seems to have changed overnight, health and disposition least of all.
Kelly inherits the power to transmit pain and physical trauma to those who try to inflict it on him. In an abrupt transition from his previous situation, Kelly is nevertheless delighted at his turn of events, but this new bestowment of abilities come at a cost.
The Unhealer manages to create a new and unique tale as well as genuine amalgamation of Native legend, while also retaining its pastiche influences of superhero myths & revenge narratives. It balances these tones very well as it tells its unorthodox story. There is an air of uneven-ness to the film’s presentation. It does take a little while for things to get going, but this is in favor of fitting in all of the screen time allotted to Henriksen, which is perfectly excusable here.
For all that it does to charm its audience, its character’s actions do raise some issues that the film’s script doesn’t really get around to addressing in full. Kelly’s Pica fades out of relevance quick, which puts into question the reason for this specific disorder to be included in the first place. It’s because of his disorder that Kelly is picked on first and foremost but bullies hardly need a reason to do so. The bullies themselves are decidedly awful in every conceivable way; they go out of their way to humiliate Kelly, record & share the video with virtually the entire school within the first 20 minutes.
The lead figure of the bully gang is shown verbally abusing his girlfriend, Dominique (Kayla Carlson), and displays such stark toxicity that misogyny is only part of the larger issues with him, his brother, and friend from the football team as they routinely bully Kelly. We get a moment with Dominique at home telling her mom that she saw her boyfriend picking on Kelly, where the mother optimistically (and romantically) spinning his behavior as a “boys will be boys” situation. Dominique takes this in with obvious disgust but simply doesn’t do anything more about her mother enabling this.
Kelly approaches his bully problem by way of visceral revenge, conjuring some of the more grotesque imagery to do so. Despite the creative involvement of the film’s Native cast members where various legends of spirits that possess powers similar to the one that inhabits Kelly, the film itself sidelines its own Native characters and stereotypes one as an old mystical figure. This feels the most odd because The Unhealer wants to celebrate them and provide a new legend that isn’t based on misinformation and perpetuated negative imagery surrounding Native cultures, yet in its very first sequence Henriksen’s Pfleuger desecrates an Indian Burial Ground (the sign says this near verbatim) in order to gain the power Kelly later inherits as thunder and lightning color the screen.
It’s clear that the film is trying to do better but there’s an unconscious bias here working against its efforts of inclusion and respect. The film still retains its focus of intent however, where the morality of Kelly’s journey is evident as the main takeaway for the audience. It’s when The Unhealer focuses solely on its closeup examinations of feelings of deserved retribution that makes the film more effective and poignant.
The Unhealer is available to watch now on Video on Demand services digitally and via cable services.