'Heal': Film Review

Heal Documentary Still 1 -Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Heal Documentary
Glossy alt-medicine doc will play well with the already convinced, but isn't as persuasive as some similar efforts.

Actress Kelly Noonan's directing debut is a documentary promoting mind-over-body medicine.

Who among us has not marveled, at some point, at the fact that his heart knows how to keep beating without conscious direction? That her stomach turns plants into energy, her cells fend off illnesses she doesn't even know are threatening her? Kelly Noonan dives into that sense of awe in Heal, a documentary embracing many alternative-medicine theories about fighting disease and injury. A nicely photographed film whose mix of feel-good imagery and sounds-good talk may not convince many skeptics in the crowd, it will doubtless be embraced by many who think the modern world is producing new ailments that can be fixed by simply turning inward.

Though it casts a very wide net, looking at both ancient traditions that have been embraced by New Agers (Ayurvedic medicine, which is millennia older than Christianity) and strategies that rely on modern technology (sound-based treatments designed by a man identified as a "Neuroacoustic Wizard"), the general theme is a belief that most modern pharmaceuticals and the doctors who rely on them are ineffective at best, harmful at worst. The pic's search for alternatives originates with its assertion of a widespread belief: People who think they live healthy lifestyles are suffering from an increasing number of mystery ailments, getting worse instead of better as conventional medicine expands its scope. Maybe other approaches will produce better results.

Not just committing the usual newbie-docmaker sin of framing this fact-gathering exercise as her personal journey, Noonan doubles down in sometimes silly ways. She films herself talking to her laptop, then cuts to an ersatz webcam POV, as if we were all Skyping with her. She uses interstitial shots of her strolling along beaches and through fields (and checking into five-star hotels), then drops in a weird shot of her emerging, deer-like, from a meadow with a handful of grass in her mouth.

Naysayers will find goofiness elsewhere, too — say, with the "medical medium" who believes he can wave his hand over someone and intuit their entire medical history. Other interviewees have made miraculous recoveries that they explain in dubious ways: A man whose spine was injured claims that he "redesigned" his vertebrae mentally, essentially thinking his way out of paralysis. A little supporting evidence from a disinterested third party would go a long way here.

Noonan isn't interested in talking to skeptics or critics, but her team of alt-medicine believers does include some with conventional qualifications. There's Kelly Turner, a PhD who studied over 1,500 "radical remissions" from cancer and isolated nine factors common to all of them; there's David Hamilton, an organic chemist who emphasizes that he's interested in research, not "woo-woo" stuff.

Heal, though, displays a much shakier grasp of science. In one scene, a geologist is presented as an authority on the particle-physics phenomenon of quantum entanglement. After his soundbite, Noonan breezily summarizes: "So, entanglement explains scientifically how our prayers might work." Er, let's get a physicist and a theologian in the room and see what they think of that.

While we're waiting for their laughter to die down, curious viewers might do better with more narrowly focused docs like the recent All the Rage, which featured pain specialist John Sarno. Despite its substantial filmmaking flaws, that doc spent long enough on one subject to persuade viewers there was something to its arguments about the "mind-body connection."

Production company: Elevate Entertainment
Distributor: Paladin Pictures
Director-screenwriter: Kelly Noonan
Producers: Richell Morrissey, Adam Schomer
Executive producer: Kelly Noonan
Director of photography: Christopher Gallo
Editor: Tina Mascara
Composer: Michael Mollura

106 minutes