A Monster With A Thousand Heads opens with a late night medical emergency. A father, Guillermo, is ill and in need of care. As the drama moves from home to hospital and back, we realise this middle-class Mexican family is struggling to obtain the best course of treatment. Standing in their way is a faceless, compassionless insurance firm, intent on burying their claim in red tape.
Guillermo’s wife Sonia (Jana Raluy), will not take no for an answer and set about forcing the company to reconsider the case. She finds herself having to take ever more drastic, desperate and dangerous steps in order to try and secure approval for her husband’s treatment. The stakes get higher and higher and the tension keeps ramping up as the action unfolds in near real time.
There is a lot about A Monster With A Thousand Heads that is clever, from the way the story is told, to the constantly inventive cinematography. The telling contrasts between the plight of struggling family and their limited access to healthcare, to the way the elite that run the health system live and the protections and access afforded them are well drawn. The action is relentless and the pacing is crisp, with the film coming in at a tightly edited 74 minutes. Even as the credits roll, there’s a wonderful postscript as a pair of football commentators discuss the fairness of a refereeing decision, during a cup final that forms and intermittent backdrop to the film’s action, their discussion seeming to be a metaphoric assessment of the the family’s entanglement with the medical insurance industry. .
But, perhaps there is too much cleverness, because despite the constant tension and Jana Raluy’s excellent lead performance A Monster With A Thousand Heads feels forced. It asks a lot of viewers before they’ve evan had a chance to care about the main protagonists, and it careens towards its inevitable denouement without giving the audience much chance to contextualise what is happening onscreen. Maybe this disorientation is the whole point of A Monster With A Thousand heads; the absurd and cruel circus of modern healthcare gives people no chance to properly process the grief and pain that accompanies suffering and death. Even though we know how the story ends and we are given no choice but to go crazy in the face of it.