True Crime Docuseries Review: Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces of Billy Milligan

 When I finished watching Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer, I noticed that it was directed by Joe Berlinger.  That revelation made many positive aspects of that docuseries make sense.  What I saw lined up with what I know of Berlinger and his strengths.  When I was done with Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces of Billy Milligan and found that it was directed by Olivier Megaton, many things made sense as well.  Unlike Berlinger, it was the negative practices of Megaton that were abundantly seen in Monsters Inside.

The docuseries tells the story of rapist Billy Milligan, who is then diagnosed with multiple personalities in the lead up to his trial.  His lawyers said he was innocent by reason of insanity, and the verdict went his way.  He is then to be sent to a mental health facility to get treatment.  There are many interviews with different people who diagnosed him, friends and family members, as well as some outside journalists and psychiatrists.

I think there are a lot of reasons for people to be sceptical about Milligan having alter personalities that committed the crimes.  One main issue is that multiple personality disorder was both popular and lucrative at the time, with two big movies and books around the diagnosis (now known as dissociative identity disorder).  Psychiatrists were excited by this diagnosis, and the question could be asked if they were unwittingling manipulating this case by suggesting and leading the subject to become what they wanted.  There is most certainly a horrible aspect of conflict of interest with people diagnosing Mulligan, who then stood to financially profit from a mental condition that was attacking a lot of attention and dollars.

Regardless of personal thoughts on this illness and whether it existed in the form that's portrayed here, this is a docuseries that I had a very hard time with.  Megaton's filmography is full of very messy films that suffer from 'stylistic' choices, such as nausea inducing quick edits.  There is usually a lot of setting up shots and scenes with an emphasis on looking cool rather than following the flow of the film.  His films have twice shown up on Christopher's worst of the year list, with Taken 3 and The Last Days of American Crime (which made my list as well).

'Style' is what he's swinging at with Monsters Inside.  Most confusing is the locations selected for the interviews of different people.  One feller appears to be sitting on a chair in a bank vault, and another person is in a bedroom that looks like it should be inhabited by Samara from The Ring.  From wide open spaces, to extremely tight spots, the settings for these interviews feel forced and far from natural.  He uses wide shots to highlight the space before doing the proper thing and just focusing on the person themselves.  Also, there are shots on the interview subjects that are made to look like security camera footage.  What does this have to do with the case of Billy Milligan?  Absolutely nothing at all.

Megaton's love for fast edits also dwell here.  Re-enactment footage is spastically put together.  There is also a lot of visual flair in colour saturatation, blurred visuals, and double vision.  The music choices are very curious, as it goes from generic ominous music to what sounds like tunes perfect for a summer road trip.  This is the embodiment of what I don't like about some true crime content.  It is like there is no confidence in the actual subject itself, and that they must compensate by making it more viscerally sensational.

The biggest issue I have here is that Milligan is overwhelming portrayed as the victim.  Yes, he was brutally abused as a child (I don't want to diminish the horrors he endured), trauma that they believe caused the multiple personalities as a defence mechanism.  Whether or not he was faking it or if this was real, the absolute truth is that he raped and kidnapped women.  There is no denying that at all.  Megaton has a few instances where the people being interviewed say just that, and that we cannot forget the true victims here.  

Looking at the overall structure of the docuseries, these seem to be inserted as a way for Megaton to convince us that he knows the reality of this tragedy.  In the end, though, the series is telling the story of 'poor Billy.'  Poor Billy wasn't free to do what he wanted.  Poor Billy escaped because he didn't like the psychiatrist looking after him.  Poor Billy.  

When he escaped, he was aided by his brother and a friend because, you know, poor Billy.  They didn't contact the authorities because, you know, poor Billy and his situation.  During this time, it is believed that Milligan murdered someone, which both the brother and friend agree was probably what happened.  While admitting that Milligan probably ended someone's life, they don't seem to understand that they are the cause for that on account of helping him out and not alerting the authorities to where he was.  Poor Billy didn't like his situation, so he escaped and probably killed someone.  Yes, poor Billy indeed.

Simply having a few random lines about remembering the true victims doesn't mean anything if the overall tone expresses the opposite.  Megaton is fascinated with Milligan, just as psychologists decades ago were.  As much as they wanted to believe it, so does Megaton.  Such was the desire for this to be true that professionals bought into aspects that were beyond unrealistic.  

One of Billy's multiples had a foreign accent, and they believed he could speak Serbo-Croation.  How would someone, no matter how messed up, become able to speak a language they were never exposed to?  There is absolutely no way that could happen, and the acceptance by professionals illustrates just how much they wanted to believe in this case.  To accept that all of a sudden he could speak different languages would be accepting some supernatural intervention, miraculously giving him knowledge that cannot be explained logically.  No matter how messed up a person is, they cannot all of a sudden learn things they haven't be exposed to.  I have dealt with both depression and anxiety, but that doesn't mean one day I could wake up an expert on cold fusion.

The reality is that people had their lives destroyed because of Milligan.  He did horrible things, and perhaps he did have multiple personalities that made him do things he normally wouldn't.  That doesn't actually matter.  He was a dangerous person.  Even after he was 'cured,' he had no empathy for people, tried to manipulate others, tried to make money off his notoriety from the murders, and threatened to kill people (and may have actually done so).  Yes, poor Billy.

Rating - 1.5 out of 4 stars