Under Our Skin 2: Emergence Dir. Andy Abrahams Wilson

[Open Eye Pictures; 2014]

Styles: documentary, health
Others: Under Our Skin

Back in 2009, Andy Abrahams Wilson released his first full-length documentary, and we here at TMT thought was pretty great. An insightful, well-researched, and troubling work, Under Our Skin found the director intimately bound up in the lives of several people suffering to greater or lesser extents from Lyme disease. The film is an altogether devastating encounter with a chronic condition that is famously hard to treat, and perhaps because of this has yet to be officially recognized as such by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (a society which, in turn, determines a lot of the policies adopted by health insurers in the United States). That first film presented an intriguing blend of activist filmmaking and insightful documentarian technique, and laid the groundwork for this check-in on the people inhabiting Wilson’s original documentary.

While the content of Under Our Skin 2: Emergence is fascinating in its own right, the film only truly makes sense as a companion piece to the first documentary, and attempts to make it a stand-alone piece generally upset its pacing and muddles its focus. A kind of Up series for people doing their best to cope with an excruciating and progressively more severe disability, Wilson’s latest would do well to take a page from Michael Apted’s playbook and not sweat so much backstory and exposition along the way. As it is, Wilson spends a fair amount of time (re)acquainting his audience with characters whose stories are compelling enough on their own without having to be tediously rehashed.

Much to his credit, Wilson doesn’t shy away from the devastation that Lyme disease has wreaked on the lives of his subjects, offering his viewers an unsettling glimpse of the broken lives of people like the beautiful young wife whose spouse couldn’t handle the constancy of her disease, or the park ranger whose entire family grew tired of his single-minded crusade to raise awareness of the kind of intense regimen of medications a person needs to take to combat Lyme. As bleak as this all seems, there are some rays of hope that permeate his film, with new discoveries relating to the transmission, prevention, and treatment of the disease are emerging at an ever increasing pace.

Whereas Under Our Skin tended to the more personal and intimate, Wilson’s follow-up definitely engages his faculties as an activist filmmaker to a much greater extent. There’s a sense of righteous indignation and moralism that permeates this film which deadens some of the impact that could’ve been possible if he’d shown more restraint. At times Emergence feels like an exposé more well-suited to prime time PBS than a serious documentary. But perhaps that’s by design. Either way, the film is an interesting book-end to the director’s first film, and casual viewers might come away with a deeper appreciation of just how truly awful Lyme disease can be.

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