A Monster With A Thousand Heads

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday May 11, 2016

'Monster with A Thousand Heads'
'Monster with A Thousand Heads'  

There's a theory about society at large that suggests anger runs hottest when hope has been glimpsed and is then snatched away. That may be true of groups or whole cultures, but it's just as true for individuals like the worn-out, hard-pressed Sonia (Jana Rally) in the Rodrigo PlŠ-directed film "A Monster with a Thousand Heads."

Jana's husband Memo (Daniel Cubillo) is fighting cancer. He was on an experimental drug that shrank his tumor considerably and eased his pain, but the insurance company canceled their coverage and the treatments stopped. Looking to get Memo reinstated on the treatments, Sonia attempts to secure a face-to-face meeting with Memo's physician, Dr. Villalba (Hugo Albores), but the man seems intent on eluding her. When she finally confronts him in the hospital's parking garage, Dr. Villalba simply turns away from her, gets into his expensive car, and drives away. Undeterred -- and with her teenage son Dario (SebastiŠn Aguirre BoŽda) in tow -- Sonia jumps into a cab, follows Dr. Villalba home, and presses her case to him there.

That's when things take a hard left turn and start to slide ever more rapidly downhill. Unable or unwilling to help Sonia, Dr. Villalba threatens to phone the police, and Sonia -- who's been pushed past her limit -- pulls a gun from her purse. Terrified, the doctor's wife spills a mountain of beans, disclosing that it's a matter of policy for certain cases -- patients with certain diseases -- to be turned down by insurance companies. The men Sonia wants are officials with the insurance company. She even tells Sonia where to find them.

It's not long before one insurance executive is lying in a pool of blood at a health club and Sonia has taken the other hostage. In order to get what she wants, Sonia is willing to gather sensitive documents at gunpoint -- documents that show a pattern of bonuses paid to insurance personnel with the highest rates of policyholder rejection -- and use them to blackmail the company. Her quest takes her to the home of a company lawyer, and then to the swanky apartment building of a shareholder. All the while, the police are hot on her trail, and getting hotter.

The film is a Mexican production, and is set in Mexico, but American views will need no translation beyond the subtitles. The same profiteering language of lies and bureaucracy we've become fluent in here in the United States holds sway everywhere, it would seem.

Rally plays the role of Sonia expertly, ratcheting up her desperation and resolve with each obstacle, half-truth, predatory policy, and disgusting disclosure she encounters. As her son, Aguirre BoŽda holds his own -- reluctant to see her go down this path, but refusing to abandon her, even repelling an attack against her with savage energy that leaves still another bystander on the ground.

The film is structured as a courtroom drama, but with a difference: The trial's proceedings take place only in snippets of voice-over, while the action remains confined to flashbacks of events. Different witnesses offer their perspectives on events from slightly different vantage points, and successive scenes overlap slightly. This has the effect of heightening the suspense: Just who has survived whatever comes next, and in what condition? Screenwriter Laura Santullo's script is taut and wastes nothing; PlŠ's direction is similarly lean. More than anything, this is a family drama, but it also has the DNA of a thriller -- a thriller, that is, with no filler, just guts and gravitas. The film's run time is only about an hour and a quarter, and that feels like enough.

If ever a movie was meant to create controversy and conversation, this is it. By all means, the moral dimension of the mother-son rampage is debatable. Just when are the legal and economic ravages of "the system" justifiably answered with force?

For Sonia, the answer presents itself the minute it's clear that the health providers entrusted with putting her husband's well-being first have chosen money over medical principles. Say what you want about the choices she makes, Sonia exhibits some cast-iron family values.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.