The Monster Inside Me
Oct 28, 2022
Tony Silva, Frances Silva, Elena Ayala-Zajac
Due to general prevalence, awareness of Lyme disease is far lesser in the UK than in the USA, country of origin of The Monster In Me. But as Tony and Frances Silva’s documentary on the tick-borne infection demonstrates, awareness around the realities of the disease is misunderstood even in scientific communities – to the devastating detriment of its victims.
The film is presented by the Silvas; a married couple who have experienced challenges relating to Frances’ infection for years, including those that have threatened her life. In breaking down the science behind the damage Lyme disease causes, as well as the difficulties in getting a Lyme diagnosis, the documentary demonstrates that Lyme threatens not only with the initial infection, but also through chronic harm that can last years. The couple’s anger at the medical establishment for failing to help treat chronic Lyme drives their mission, and leads them to lesser-known methods to help counteract the disease’s impact.
For a film marketed as a borderline medical-horror documentary, The Monster In Me pleasantly surprises with a matter-of-fact, jovial tone that makes its feature-length runtime an enjoyable watch – even when dealing with a harrowing and crippling illness. This comes courtesy of Tony Silva’s entertaining and snarky narration, as well as the inclusion of clips from the likes of Robin Williams – which perfectly capture the farcical situation the couple find themselves in in their journey to find treatment. There is an implicit message in such a tone – that in some ridiculous situations, all you can do is laugh. It is a refreshing directional choice and allows the film to connect to audiences effectively and garner empathy from its viewers.
But this is not at the expense of providing serious and scientific analysis of Lyme disease, and its unseen impact in the United States since general emergence in the previous decades. The film features contributions from an impressive number of doctors, physicians and medical experts across a number of fields – giving genuine legitimacy to the claims of the Silvas and other sufferers featured in the film who look to challenge the medical establishment’s current treatment recommendations. Less impressive is its conspiratorial statement of fact that the CDC and ‘Big Pharma’ refuse efforts to cure Lyme in order to profit from drug sales – an idea that may or may not contain elements of truth, but one that lacks the body of evidence amassed behind other claims made in the film. Given the difficulties the Silvas have faced, one can hardly blame their frustration and identification of a sinister explanation behind their struggle – but presenting it in such a way without proper proof feels beneath the film, especially considering the painstaking research undertaken elsewhere.
Production is strong on the film, with a mixture of handheld tape, talking-head interviews and stock footage making up most of the screentime. Long scenes of scientific and medical jargon can become difficult to keep up with at times, but the directors usually have the sense to spice such technical info-dumps with animations, which visualise the necessary data and maintain the film’s momentum. The interviews with experts and other sufferers are professionally presented, and the fictional or interpretive scenes representing Frances’ experience are artistic and imaginative. It proves an impressive example of the director’s flexibility behind the camera.
The Monster In Me is a fascinating work which documents a misunderstood and understudied disease, and the associated condition it can result in. Its flirtation with conspiracy-theory territory is a misstep which only cheapens the excellent research it otherwise presents – which it largely ought to be judged on, but its presentation of the human cost of Lyme disease is exemplary. You’ll be sure to check for ticks after watching.