Friday, 14 June 2013

Horror with Subtitles: Tesis (1996) Review

Stars: Ana Torrent, Fele Martinez, Eduado Noriega.
Language: Spanish

While researching her Honours thesis on audio-visual violence, overachiever Angela (Ana Torrent) enlists the help of Chema (Fele Martinez), a freakish loner who collects ultra-violent movies. But when the pair stumble across a video that appears to show the brutal murder of a fellow student, they soon find themselves the targets of an on-campus snuff ring.

Before achieving international fame with The Others, writer/director Alejandro Amenabar launched his career with Tesis, an American-style horror-thriller that earned seven Goya awards (the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars), including Best Film and Best Original Screenplay, in his home country of Spain. Pretty impressive for a first-time film maker, especially considering the prejudice normally shown towards the horror genre.

Tesis is a well-written, well-acted movie that works on a number of different levels. If all you’re after is a straight-up horror-thriller, then Tesis delivers that. Amenabar himself admits to borrowing many of the techniques used throughout the film from Hollywood. Furthermore, Tesis is one hell of a mystery. Amenabar places Angela at the apex of a love triangle, with Chema and good-looking but dangerous Bosco (Eduardo Noriega), then spends the rest of the film shifting the audience’s suspicions as to the identity of the killer between the two (or is it someone completely different?). However, through the character of Angela, Amenabar also explores the simultaneous attraction and repulsion the viewing public has towards violent images.

In spite of its subject matter, Tesis is not a gore film. At a number of points throughout the film, it appears that Amenabar is about to show the audience some particularly grisly sight, only for the camera to pull away just at the last moment; Amenabar, instead, preferring to focus on Angela’s reaction to what she is seeing. Angela insists that she is only interested in violent movies from a purely academic standpoint and that she considers what she is seeing to be disgusting, yet she is every bit as fascinated by it as Chema.

In Tesis, Angela serves as a proxy for the viewer. Anyone who wants to watch a film like this to begin with, must have a certain desire to see violent imagery and in the final scene, Amenabar takes his audience to task for having such a desire. Nevertheless, if horror is your thing, then you could do a lot worse than watching Tesis, an American-style horror film that outdoes the films that inspired it.

Verdict: Released three years prior to the similarly themed 8mm, this ground-breaking Spanish horror-thriller simultaneously borrows from Hollywood and shows the Americans how it’s done.

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