Alejandro Amenabar’s 1996 thriller, Tesis, was the Spanish helmer’s first feature-length film, following the duo of shorts, Himenoptero (1991) and Luna (1995). It’s also his weakest effort to date. It bows to cliche, has a far-from-engrossing third-act, and generally tramples around the field of formulaic thriller convention in a manner thankfully absent from his later work.
Tesis concerns the age-old threat of the “Snuff Movie”, with University student Angela, played by Ana Torrent, uncovering some damnable conspiracy amidst the gloomy, poorly-lit halls of the aforementioned institution, involving the murder of innocent women-folk being filmed and sold on for extortionate rates.
Obviously this was made way back when, so folks were unable to just type in a few carefully-chosen words in Kazaa and be rewarded with all the carnage they could handle. In order to see genuine, actual killings and so on, one presumably had to seek out such tapes on the black market, or a similarly dark retail outlet, or else wait for the post-watershed news bulletins. The latter option, of course, involves learning stuff and generally being burdened with ghastly educational banter amidst the gut-spewing.
Anyhow, Angela teams up with Chema, played by Fele Martinez, who himself has a vast collection of grisly and violent pornography, presumably with titles like Faces Of Dead Corpses and Death On Camera and Police! Camera! Action!
Tesis conforms to any number of suppositions, not least the adopted grammar of the Snuff flick. Single shot, one room, no attractive wall coverings, woman is tortured, then killed, the end. It is also a good deal less smart than it thinks it is. Most of time, the action occurs at least seven miles from the nearest Intelligent Plot Development. The big twist is less a twist than a slight bend that can be noted with fairly little effort at least five minutes into the proceedings.
When it goes off on its own little dalliances, however, Tesis is highly entertaining. Chema, though obsessed with filmic violence and sporting a ridiculous hair-style, is a fully-rounded, believable character, and not some snarling, trench-coat wearing deviant like is so often the case when those intrigued by such fare are represented onscreen.
But there’s still much too much nonsense.
Eduardo Noriega is watchable enough as the butch, camera-pointing Bosco, and is almost as good as he was in Amenabar’s later Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), itself remade by Cameron Crowe as Tom Cruise With Half-A-Face. In fact, most of Tesis is watchable enough, and perhaps if one were ignorant of the identity of the director, it would be something of a gem. Sadly, Amenabar’s debut flounders drastically in comparison with his later outings. He knows a good twist or two, as we saw in Abre Los Ojos, and he could freak the audience asunder when required, as he did in his English-Language debut, The Others, but Tesis remains unremarkable, fairly middling for the most part.
The lesson to be learned is that Filmmakers should never get better, since their earlier efforts are only going to flounder in comparison. Take the Guy Richie route, if you really want your freshman excursions to be noted. Make a reasonably dull crime carry-on with a footballer, watch it rake in money through some black-magic of some nature, then make a lesser follow-up, possibly give it a cheap pun on the female genitalia for a title, and then conclude it all with a film of utmost wretchedness, like, say, Madonna On The Beach.
If Amenabar really wants us to see Tesis as the masterpiece it might have been, it’s time he got Tiffany On Holiday swept in production.
The Duke resides at Mondo Irlando, where the jokes are funny and the intellect is crushing.