Friday, August 26, 2011


Alejandro Amenábar, 1996
Starring: Ana Torrent, Fele Martinez, Eduardo Noriega

I don’t deal well with the heat. As a result, going to movie theaters has become a habitual summer activity and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’m willing to tolerate a lot more fluff than in the colder temperatures. I’m disgusted to report that while I've seen a number of entertaining bad action films, the only effectively scary movie I've seen all summer has been a rental of Amenábar’s excellent Tesis (Thesis), also known as Snuff. Released in 1996 and starring Ana Torrent and Fele Martinez, this was Amenábar’s award-winning first feature film. It cleaned up at the Goya’s, which are essentially the Spanish version of the Oscars, and received rave reviews in the Spanish press.

A graduate student, Ángela, chooses to write her thesis on violence in film and media, so she seeks out the help of her adviser and a fellow student, Chema, who is obsessed with horror films. Her professor locates a snuff film in the school archives and has a heart attack while watching it. Ana steals the tape and convinces Chema to help her get to the bottom of where it came from when they recognize a missing student in the film. Their nosing around draws them close to the heart of the mystery and within dangerous grasp of the murderer.

Tesis has a lot to offer. There is some capable acting, helmed by the lovely, wide-eyed Ana Torrent as Ángela. Her character is pitted against the awkward, antisocial Chema and the charming, handsome, but potentially dangerous Bosco. Ángela’s sexual desire thickens the plot and brings her self-destructive tendencies to light, namely when she begins to have violently sexual dreams about Bosco. There are also some delightfully terrifying moments that take place in either semi or total darkness in the bowels of the school. Not genuinely a horror film, Tesis is part thriller and part commentary on the obsession with violence, violent sexuality in particular, in the media.

With that said, this is not a perfect film. Though it is a great first effort, it is overly blunt in parts, particularly if you’re expecting any sort of complex philosophical analysis of the attraction to violence that brings so many of us horror nerds to the genre in the first place. It is a successful riff on the great giallo films of the ‘70s and reminds me of the better efforts of Brian de Palma, particularly Dressed to Kill. Amenábar deftly displays his excellent visual style, which includes numerous scenes of people watching and listening to media in a subtle, suspenseful way.

Coincidentally, at the dawn of the string of appalling Hollywood remakes of European and Asian horror films, Tesis was loosely remade as the dreadful Nicholas Cage vehicle 8MM, which you should avoid at all costs. Fortunately, Tesis has been re-released in a special edition DVD; it was out of print entirely too long.

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