“A Monster With a Thousand Heads” is a political outcry masquerading as a taut, well-crafted thriller. Mexican director Rodrigo Plá plugs into the outrage that can spiral out of control when our fate is at the mercy of unfeeling bureaucrats.
Sonia Bonet (Jana Raluy) is desperate to get her dying husband the cancer treatment that she believes may save his life but is denied by his insurance company. Failing in an attempt to schedule an urgent meeting with his unresponsive doctor, she camps out in the insurance company’s gleaming, impersonal facilities in an attempt to see the doctor and plead her cause. Rebuffed, she follows him to his posh home, with her disbelieving teenage son, Dario (Sebastián Aguirre), in tow, where she ends up waving a gun at the doctor and demanding justice.
At a lean 74 minutes, “The Monster With a Thousand Heads” charges ahead in what seems like real time as Sonia, increasingly desperate, systematically tracks down the doctors and company board members capable of reversing the denial. She walks in on two insurance executives in their country club sauna and accidentally shoots one of them in the leg; a notary and a shareholder are next approached, in the middle of the night, to sign the necessary papers at gunpoint.
Sonia is both out of control and in total command. As her mission plays out, it becomes clear to everyone except, perhaps, her that there is no way these forcibly signed insurance documents will survive scrutiny or that she will escape the pursuing police. As one of her captives points out, even if the treatment were approved for her husband, it would likely not benefit him.
Plá and his screenwriter, Laura Santullo, stack the ideological deck by making the bureaucrats, at best, ineffectually sympathetic and, at worst, crassly uncaring. But to their credit, the filmmakers don’t transform Sonia into a righteous heroine. She is consumed by her cause, but the odd thing is that the husband himself hardly figures in the movie. It’s as if her mission has become an end in itself – a war against all those in life who have wronged her. Her mania is both sane and insane. Raluy is such a consummate actress that she can convey all these obsessive crosscurrents with the simplest of looks and gestures as Sonia races, gun in hand, to a doom of her own making.
This is certainly not the first movie to tap into ordinary people’s rage against what they see as the bureaucratic indifference of the health industry. But what separates this film from, say, a movie like 2002’s “John Q,” in which Denzel Washington played a distraught father who commandeered an emergency room to get his son a heart transplant, is that Plá dispenses with the grandstanding. The film speeds forward without a lot of baggage. This is where the film leaves us: To our horror, we are made to realize that Sonia’s story could be ours. Grade: B+ (This film is not rated.)