Director – Alejandro Amenábar
Cast – Ana Torrent, Fele Martínez, Eduardo Noriega, Xabier Elorriaga, Miguel Picazo, Nieves Herranz, Rosa Campillo
Release Year – 1996
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Tesis is a film that I really wanted to see after reading nothing but constant positive reviews, and after finally viewing this piece I can say that it is worth all of the praise it has received. Giving us a sweet and well-crafted horror/mystery/thriller tale that comes with great execution, this low-budget effort makes for one of the best under-the-radar 90s films there is and a darn good watch for all horror fans.
Angela Marquez(Ana Torrent; The Haunting – 2009), a graduate film student whose thesis is on the media’s obsession with violence, finds herself in a violent web of lies and deceit when she uncovers a snuff film that not only involves her professor’s murder but the killings of several students who have gone missing over the years. When the film implicates several of her cohorts she enlists the help of a creepy classmate to help her solve the murders, but even he cannot be trusted in this deadly cat-and-mouse game.
The debut film of writer/director Alejandro Amenabar(The Others), it is obvious the man had talent when he broke onto the horror scene with this one. The storyline is what really sells the film, giving us a well-crafted tale somewhat reminiscent of 8mm but much better. I loved the idea of a graduate student trying desperately to complete her thesis on a subject that she finds out she does not have the stomach for, especially when she comes across the snuff film tied to the mysterious death of her professor and after a little investigation – the deaths of fellow coeds at her university. This two hour long tale brings us numerous developments that kept me engaged throughout, expertly delivering a solid mystery element whose twists and turns were predictable at times but nonetheless enjoyable and well-executed. We get plenty of tension thrown into this story thanks to how well the numerous characters are used, with each of them coming off as trustworthy to Angela until she uncovers unsettling information regarding each of them, leaving her to constantly watch her back while working with someone to catch a killer who could be himself the person that she is looking for. Each of the characters involved provides well for the film, with none of them being useless despite some attaining more prevalent runtime than others. I could go on about how great and interesting this storyline is, but spoilers will arise and you will hate me more than you already do.
Amenabar’s direction in this piece is fantastic, especially when you consider just how little he had to work with. With a shoestring budget he was able to provide great atmosphere and positive sets that were each used to full potential in delivering good horror and tension, and his overall execution proved that you do not need a strong budget to deliver a good watch, just will and creativity. He gets mostly-positive performances from the actors involved, and his camerawork provides for good tension that I found surprisingly well-done for a film with a high thriller element. The pacing is very well for a film lasting a solid two hours, which plays directly in part to engaging direction and a well-crafted screenplay.
Overall, Tesis is a great Spanish horror film that gives us a truly unique story focusing on a sub-genre we rarely see used – snuff films. Constantly bombarded with developmental twists and turns, this storyline and subsequent screenplay is fantastic and comes complimented by great direction that makes for one of the best and most under-appreciated horror films of the 1990s.