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Monster With a Thousand Heads
The depiction of intense hostage situations in movies, especially ones from Hollywood, tend to heighten the drama with poetic license, up to a point where there isn't much of a difference in style and tone between a hostage thriller and a run off the mill action flick. Real hostage situations are terrifying and wholly unpredictable, forcing the victims as well as the perpetrators to act in awkward and eccentric ways. Any research into a police event where people are taken hostage will show that there's nothing "cool" or "badass" about it. It's usually not much more than a tense nightmare that everyone's stuck in.
Director Rodrigo Pla's admirably raw thriller A Monster with a Thousand Heads strives to bring a realistic take on a suspenseful hostage situation, staying as far away from the Hollywood pizzazz of this sub-genre as possible. Adapted by Laura Santullo from her novel, the film follows the shoestring plot about Sonia (Jana Raluy), a woman pushed to desperation after his insurance company denies her cancer-stricken husband a supposedly life-saving medicine. After the doctors in charge of her husband's account refuse to help her, Sonia holds them hostage at gunpoint. With her terrified son by her side, Sonia begins a long night as she attempts to get hold of the soulless bureaucrats who she believes are letting her husband die.
Pla uses a lot of static wide shots in order to let the audience get fully acquainted with each location, inviting us to predict how each hostage situation might go down depending on where each character stands at any given time. The film contains some exquisite framing, taking full advantage of the 2:35:1 aspect ratio in order to include every character on screen, even during close-ups, thereby allowing the audience to never lose track of each character's emotional state. As the events unfold, Pla uses voice-over from each victim we see on screen. This is supposedly flash-forward testimony during the trial that took place after the hostage situation has ended. We never see the trial itself, and the fact that Pla only uses voice over not only helps keep the pacing afloat, but it also gives us insight into what the victims were thinking in the moment.
Apparently, Jana Raluy's father passed away from cancer shortly before she acted in the film, so she used that pain to help her with her performance. This is an incredibly soulful performance, one that easily carries the film. There isn't much exposition given about the relationship between Sonia and her husband, so the weight of that essential back-story is put on Raluy's facial expressions. In that sense, she manages to communicate years of love and eventual pain with a single look.
Appropriate for the grim subject matter, A Monster with a Thousand Heads has a muted, almost grayscale look. However, it's still a well-shot film, especially considering the low budget, and deserved to be released on Blu-ray. However, the film's short runtime allows the DVD to pack a fairly high bit rate. The movie look perfectly fine upconverted to 1080p.
We get two options with the film's original Spanish language track: Lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. The film focuses on realism, so the sound mix relies heavily on capturing correct ambient sounds. The sound is subtle and fairly muted, but in order to truly experience the ambiance, it should be watched on a surround system.
Deleted Scenes: 7 Minutes of deleted material. Nothing really interesting.
We also get a Trailer.
Tense, original, incredibly well acted and structured, A Monster with a Thousand Heads is a thriller for genre fans who are looking for an alternative to the exaggerated and bombastic Hollywood style centered on similar stories.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com