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Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces of Billy Milligan Review 2021 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew
Static, and a fuzzy analog image emerges of a young man with shaggy hair and a peach fuzz moustache. “I do things and I don’t remember them,” he tells an interviewer off screen. “People tell me I do things. Bad things. Criminal stuff.”
Netflix seems to have an entire wing of its streaming platform reserved for true crime, and additions keep being built onto the back end. The latest is Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces of Billy Milligan, helmed by French director Oliver Megaton, who might be best known as the director of action sequels like Transporter 3 and the last two Taken movies. Here, he combines grainy reenactments, archival audio and footage, and interviews with family, psychologists and psychiatrists, journalists, and lawyers to tell the story of Billy Milligan, who in 1977 was the 23-year-old suspect in a series of rapes on the campus of Ohio State University when his peculiar mental state came into question. With the encouragement of the public defenders assigned to his case, Milligan was interviewed and examined by a series of mental health professionals, and was eventually diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, now known as dissociative identity disorder. It became the challenge for the doctors and Milligan’s lawyers to not only determine his intellectual competence, but to establish it in court as a legitimate legal defense, something without precedent at the time.
In the first of four episodes, Billy Milligan is introduced through blurry re-creations that draw on the seedy look and feel of 1970’s grindhouse cinema. But there’s also footage of those interviews, and it’s there that “the multiples” begin to manifest — an erudite Brit named Arthur, a Yugolsavian with a mean streak called Ragen; a young girl with a nervous, high-pitched lilt. “You mean you’ll get these people outta me?” Billy, seemingly his core self, asks the doctors. And the potential line of defense begins to emerge — if Milligan was acting as one of his multiples during his crimes, then he wouldn’t have known he was even committing them. But was it real or just a clever flim flam? “Was he attempting to make a case for the multiple personality diagnosis in order to have an excuse or to exculpate himself from the charges that he faced?” Dr. Marlene Kocan, a psychologist on the case, asks in the present day. And the prosecutors interviewed admit they thought the public defenders’ multiple personalities angle was complete hogwash. But as more and more doctors analyze Billy, and his family and friends admit to his lifetime of behavioral quirks, the narrative begins to shift toward determining what traumas or terrors created Milligan’s tremulous mental state.
“Most people don’t understand this, and they think it’s too fantastic to be real.” That statement from a modern-day psychologist about identity dissociative disorder cuts to the quick of what the first part of Monsters Inside covers. While it establishes who Billy Milligan was, and relies on interviews with family and friends to portray him as someone they couldn’t believe would ever commit the crimes he was alleged to, it also drifts heavily into the intersecting fields of psychology and psychiatry, and how clinical understanding of the symptoms Milligan manifested was still emerging in the 1970’s. In short, many of the doctors who studied him were naturally skeptical, and that skepticism only increased amid the people on the legal side of things. Monsters Inside lets the doctors have their say, and the prosecutors scoff. But from its title and those yellowed and shadowy re-enactments to the dissonant chords thudding on the soundtrack, this true crime doc wants very badly to feel like a horror movie.
This isn’t too surprising. The Conjuring films, that ultra-successful horror franchise following the exploits of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, built its third installment around the real-life case of a guy who claimed he was possessed by a demon when he killed his landlord. And don’t forget about Edward Norton personality-shifting in Primal Fear, and revealing it all as a sick ruse. The concept of multiple personalities is full of opportunities for Hollywood, and Monsters Inside delights in skating around the rim of that, even as its roots remain in the form of a true crime documentary.