In his tight, trim health-insurance thriller A Monster With a Thousand Heads, Mexican-Uruguayan director Rodrigo Plá achieves a visual style that is ice cold but also deeply human -- a clever way to depict an all-powerful system that feeds on our lives and thrives on our fallibility. Plá opens on a 40-something man, Guillermo, horribly ill with cancer, as his wife Sonia (Jana Raluy) and teenage son Dario (Sebastián Aguirre Boëda) scramble to help. But Guillermo remains on the edges of Plá's ruthlessly fixed camera, which often keeps Sonia -- agonized, frightened, but also determined -- at the center of the frame. Desperate to get her husband approved for costly medication, she calls to arrange for an emergency meeting with his doctor.
You know what happens next. We all know what happens next. At every stage, Sonia is met with resistance -- first mundane, then gradually monstrous. When Sonia gets in a cab and follows a doctor home, we understand that she means business, and the film starts to reveal itself as a thriller. Sonia, it turns out, has a gun and isn't afraid to take matters into her own hands. Over the course of a night, as she pursues her husband's case to the upper echelons of the health-insurance company, she faces red tape, apathy, obfuscation and corruption. To work, the film needs us to both be on Sonia's side and also to be shocked by what she's capable of. Raluy is captivating as a woman whose terror at her own behavior is matched only by her bewilderment at the system. But the real star here is Plá, with his total control of the frame and emphasis on surprising perspectives.