AFI FEST 2015: A Monster with a Thousand Heads, by David Bax
Rodrigo Plá’s A Monster with a Thousand Heads is a very angry movie. Given that it’s about the insurance industry – which it would seem operates in Mexico much like it does here – rage is an exceedingly appropriate response, as anyone who’s had to navigate that bureaucracy can attest. Given how operatically frustrating it can be to do something as simple as change your primary care physician, a woman trying to get her dying husband’s treatment covered should be more than enough fodder for a feature film. Yet Monster doesn’t seek to do anything more than list its grievances, leaving anything more fertile in its story underdeveloped.
Sonia Bonet (Jana Raluy) needs a signature. First, she needs one from her doctor. When he blows her off, she follows him home and accosts him until she gets the name of the person whose signature she really needs. This leads to her to more violent confrontations at a country club, which leads her up the chain to higher ranking insurance company executives and shareholders and so on and so forth, at each turn learning there’s one more signature to be gathered, one more person to threaten with her pistol.
Raluy occupies nearly every frame of the film and acquits herself admirably. Her increasing rabidity is both terrifying and darkly funny, all the more so because she allows us to understand the dark logic under most of her outwardly irrational decisions. Of course, this is Plá’s point, that it can often feel like the insurance companies lead us to places where the most reasonable choice is to stick a gun in someone’s face.
That gun, however, represents the most nagging problem with the movie. The firearm’s very existence undercuts the credulity of the story. If we’re meant to see Sonia as a relatable everywoman driven to the edge of madness, then how are we to swallow that she packed a loaded weapon into her handbag when she left the house for what should have been a commonplace meeting with her husband’s doctor?
Plá appears not to have thought that through and that feeling persists. A Monster with a Thousand Heads lacks depth and cleverness, not to mention visual interest. With the exception of one shot – a medium look at a receptionist engaged in banal chatter with a shadowy form on the other side of the frosted glass wall behind her that we only eventually realize is Sonia – camera placement is perfunctory at best and often ugly. Plá didn’t concern himself with these things because he set out to make a polemic, not a movie. And it shows.