THE UNHEALER ** USA 2020 Dir: Martin Guigui. 94 mins
Save for the support of one wealthy, pretty long-term friend (the appealing Kayla Carson), high school life is miserable for Pica-suffering Elijah Nelson. Unflatteringly nicknamed “Trash Boy” for his compulsion to eat almost anything, he takes solace in the love of Natasha Henstridge, now officially consigned to underwritten Loyal Mom roles. Shyster drunk faux-healer Lance Henriksen has ended up with a real gift thanks to a 1000 year old grave in a Shaman burial ground. Despite being warned by the wise Red Elk (Branscombe Richmond) of the dangers of not returning the “gift”, he readily employs it anyway – and ends up transferring his powers to the persecuted teen. Nelson takes the opportunity to restore his shattered self esteem and avenge his mistreatment.
The best thing about THE UNHEALER is Henriksen, whose marvellously coarse, mean-spirited but sadly short-lived role energises the opening reels. “I used to be a nobody and now I’m Jesus fuckin’ Christ!” he grins, when not dismissing the walking genre cliché of the wise old Native American as “Chief Redfucker”. Henriksen deserves better than extended cameos in low-end horror films, but at least he brings this one to life.
Otherwise, it’s a fairly bland throwback to the Stephen King-led cycle of American horror films that fulfilled the gruesome fantasies of put-upon geeks and outcasts everywhere. The bullies are goofy caricatures (ditto the obnoxious sports coach) and Nelson’s performance is oddly unsympathetic whether in mopey, downtrodden victim mode or transitioning into the confident avenger of the second half, complete with sub-X MEN abilities to heal himself after inflicting wounds that magically transfer to fatal injuries for his enemies. There are fun diversions – like a three-way classroom fantasy – and the kills are diverting, notably some power drill abuse and a science lab acid attack. Sadly, there’s no real suspense and no one to really root for as the story peters out into slightly patronising heroism from Red Elk and a lazy 80s style circular coda.
Review by Steven West