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Review: Under Our Skin

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Photo courtesy Under Our Skin

Of all the pressing medical issues in America today, Lyme disease doesn’t usually rank very high on the list of things to worry about. That is, unless you believe the startling new documentary by Andy Abrahams Wilson, Under Our Skin. In it, the filmmaker postulates that Lyme is not only more prevalent than most people realize, it is a rapidly growing problem across our nation that leaves behind it missed diagnoses, insurmountable medical bills, crippling health issues, and sometimes death.

The knowledge that most people carry about Lyme is pretty limited: it’s contracted by deer ticks in far off corners of America where people probably shouldn’t be living anyways, right? And what do we really know about ticks at all, besides the hilarious television show of the same name? Well, truth be told, our information on Lyme is woefully small, and - according to Wilson - our medical and scientific understanding isn’t much better. But what is abundantly clear is that many people, for whatever reason, find themselves in pain and anguish with only the label ‘Lyme Disease’ and no real healthcare options to help them.

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Following the journey of Under Our Skin, we peek into the lives of several families, some young and others elderly, who believe and are being treated for Lyme disease. In every case, these folks have been misdiagnosed, told that their ailments are fictitious, or dropped by their provider for being able to present enough compelling evidence to support their medically necessary claims. And while this portion of the film is heartbreaking, as all human suffering is, it is pretty standard documentary fare; there is a small group of vocal advocates who decry the lack of public attention to their cause. The film really starts to turn when it digs into the meaty ‘why’ surrounding the lack of intelligent response to Lyme, and a medical society seemingly reluctant to follow the clues.

Most of the blame falls pretty heavily on the Infectious Disease Society of America, which published a 2006 Lyme treatment guideline that largely classified it as a short-lived and highly psychosomatic infection that is easily treatable. Under Our Skin attempts to not only dismantle this damning document, but also to unravel the motivations behind it: money. According to Wilson, the 14-member panel is largely compromised by funding either directly to them or their respective universities by large Lyme-related antibiotics corporations. To be fair, this link is never really tested for strength in the documentary, but certainly casts a shadow on the film from the megalith for-profit healthcare organization that is already so hated globally.

And while attacking the 14-member IDSA Lyme disease panel does make for good film villainy, especially when pitted against “Lyme-literate” doctors being threatened with removal of their license for their unusual (and successful) Lyme curing practices, it feels a bit hollow as the film drags on. One supposes that it IS possible that there is a large-scale monetized plot underway to keep Lyme out of the, well, limelight, but it’s all a bit hard to swallow in the large doses presented by Under Our Skin. Truth be told, both sides present impassioned arguments founded in scientific research and are even able t to paddle forth normal folks who to speak on their conflicting behalves. So who is to believed? Ah, the ultimate question of a documentary.

What is undeniably true is that, while Under Our Skin is not shot or edited in any particularly compelling way, the ideas it presents in regards to our medical communities being under-educated towards an infectious disease that certainly does have a widely cast net is cause for concern. Again, the level of cloak-and-dagger evil on the part of a single panel of men is a bit overplayed in the film, but is certainly something to be looked at nonetheless. It’s not likely you will leave Under Our Skin with a burning desire to stage protests in front of your local IDSA office, but as food for thought the film is a well-balanced meal.

Under Our Skin opens in Los Angeles on June 26th at the Laemmle's Music Hall.