Monday, 15 February 2010

Today's Viewing & Review: Tesis


Angela (Ana Torrent) is a film student in Madrid working on a thesis (the English translation of the title) about violence in cinema. When she hooks up with Chema (Fele Martinez), a horror geek, their enquiries lead them towards mysterious student Bosco (Eduardo Noriega) and into the sinister underworld of snuff movies.

In 1995 when this was made, film violence was very much a hot topic – and still is to some extent. By turning Angela's investigation into a thriller, where she comes up against the very issues she is researching, director Alejandro AmenĂ¡bar has turned the film itself into a Meta comment on the subject. However, the academic subtext never takes away from the fact this is a well-crafted, suspenseful piece of work.

There is no protracted set-up and within ten minutes the thrust of the plot has begun and the mismatched investigative duo are established. As a ‘whodunnit’ thriller the film has more than enough chilling moments to keep you entertained. Never has the blinking light of a video camera been used to such creepy effect and the bland, amorphous locations of the college make for an unusual but effective setting, especially when plunged into darkness.

As a treatise on violent films, it’s less successful. It’s a bit too neat casting the ‘horror freak’ as anti-social and perverted. It does err towards the simplistic approach that violent films are giving the viewers “what they want”, but it ultimately leaves the viewer to make up their own mind. It goes to great lengths and employs various devices to ensure that despite the brutal horrors the characters are witnessing, the viewer never does.

The film could do with some judicious cutting to get it down to a punchier running time. It lags in the middle-section and by the time it reaches a crescendo of red herrings and bluffs/double bluffs, it has outstayed its welcome. The technology present throughout the film may have the net result of making it look dated, and the snuff idea has been readily used in Hollywood subsequently, but the ideas and execution are still mostly on the mark. That it occasionally calls to mind the likes of Hidden, Funny Games and Mute Witness is testament to this - especially when considering those films are either contemporaries or later works.

Tesis stands out as a good of example of an ideas-driven thriller. There’s some substance to the scares and it’s admirably handled on such a low budget. It adds further weight to the credo that it’s outside of the US and UK where the real innovative work is getting done in this genre – before it’s pilfered for mass market.


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