It doesn’t take much to fill one with despair and the general sense that the world is indifferent to your plight, but nothing can drive a person to the brink like dealing with an insurance company. The paperwork, the type numbers, the claims, the people, the waiting, all of it feels like pushing a boulder up a hill. But what makes it ultimately hopeless is the unfathomable faceless-ness of it all. Every other company has a figurehead to point to, to direct your ire at, to shoulder the blame — or praise, if the case may be — but insurance companies? Not so much. It’s turtles all the way down.
Ignoring that truth — against her better judgment, no doubt — is going to be Sonia’s (Jana Raluy) downfall, but what was she to do? She is a working-class mother, caring for her terminally ill husband while trying to raise her teenage son, Darió (Sebastián Aguirre Boëda). When treatment is denied her husband, treatment that Sonia believes he needs to survive, Sonia takes her complaint to the doctor’s office. Clearly he is the one who made the mistake.
But Dr. Villabla (Hugo Albores) is not interested in hearing about Sonia’s personal research on the denied treatment. It’s Friday and he wants to play squash with his buddies. Sonia, refusing to take no for an answer, tracks the good doctor down and holds him at gunpoint until he agrees to approve the treatment. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Protocol must be followed and that means paperwork and signatures.
Sonia and Darío take Dr. Villabla hostage as they drive around town, first to print off the paperwork at an internet café, then to the hospital’s CEO to get his signature, and then to another colleague to confirm that the doctor and the CEO have both signed off… It’s a nightmare, a very real one that highlights the pointless bureaucratic steps involved with an insurance company. If it’s this much hassle, and takes this much time, when Sonia has a gun pointed at their heads, how much time would it take in the typical manner?
The title says it all: A Monster with a Thousand Heads (Un monstruo de mil cabezas). Written by Laura Santullo and directed by Rodrigo Plá, Monster is a taut story with a noir bent. Though it is set in Mexico, Sonia’s plight is familiar to many Americans, and god knows whom else, as Sonia fights a labyrinthine and overly complicated system. Anyone will feel Sonia’s frustration with the receptionist who won’t give her a straight answer. And when she pulls the gun out to Dr. Villabla to sign the paperwork, you almost cheer. But then Sonia, accidentally, shoots a doctor in the leg, sealing her fate. There is no way out of this one and Sonia knows it. The only thing to do is take it to its logical conclusion.
A Monster with a Thousand Heads is not a happy or uplifting one movie, but it is a strong one. One reminiscent of the work of Elia Kazan and Sam Fuller, who also used meat and potatoes storytelling to accompany their political beliefs. But in those movies, the hero usually won. It’s hard to win against an insurance company. Survival is more common. Sonia does indeed survive to live another day, but whether or not she won is entirely up to viewers.