Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar grabbed the attention of American audiences with his dreamy thriller Open Your Eyes, but he earlier sent shock waves throughout Spain in 1996 with this disturbing debut. Thesis is a quie... more »tly creepy psychological thriller about a young college student, Ángela (Ana Torrent) investigating the social fascination with sensational violence for her thesis project. In her search for violent video footage, she stumbles onto what may be a real live snuff film, a videotape that her professor was watching before his untimely death. With the help of a geeky gore junkie she uncovers a conspiracy that may include her handsome but sinister new boyfriend, her thesis advisor, and even her weirdo partner. When she uncovers one too many secrets lying in the catacombs of the university basement, she realizes that she may be the next victim. It goes on perhaps too long, and Amenábar's pointed observations on the lure of violence and the dark side of human nature are lost as the spiraling mystery spins into a first-person nightmare, but his skill at weaving a paranoid world where evil may lurk behind every friendly face is undeniable. Thesis is reminiscent of Brian De Palma's early thrillers: dark, stylish, subdued, and bubbling with the characters' guilty (and ultimately dangerous) fascination with the transgressive. --Sean Axmaker« less
Thesis, a triumph of indie filmmaking, don't miss it!
aelwen | 12/11/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Alejandro Amenábar's THESIS is one of the most disturbing and original movies I have seen in a long, long time. For some reason I was captured at once by its raw look and complex story, perfectly played by Ana Torrent as the lead character Angela.Angela is a film student at the university in Madrid, Spain. While doing some research for her graduation thesis on violence in movies, she comes across (in part by chance) a snuff video tape where a young girl can be seen (and heard) slowly and viciously being tortured and killed to death, in the most gruesome and inhumane way you can possibly imagine. The genious behind THESIS lies in the fact that Amenábar slowly takes you deeper and deeper into the story, until you find yourself immersed in a world of terror and intrigue from which you realize there is no way out. Angela can't force herself to watch the tape at first, but the choices she makes will lead her deeper and deeper not only into the heart of the killer, but into the heart of her very own fears.Don't miss this one, it's an excellent example of how you don't need a big budget nor A-list movie stars to make a truly outstanding movie. Word of caution though, this is not for the faint at heart. The DVD edition is highly, highly recommeneded, I'm glad they decided to release this one."
Prepare to be Shocked
Bethany McKinney | Los Angeles, CA | 06/13/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The things that make this movie really enjoyable are the unexpected twists and turns the plot takes. It is one of the most suspenseful movies I have seen in a long time, and the subtitles don't detract from that. So the movie itself is great (but if you are not yet desensitized to brutal acts of violence, you will probably be horrified). But there are some things the DVD version doesn't have that it should have. For example, you can't turn off the subtitles like you can with most DVDs. So even if you speak Spanish and don't need subtitles, you have to see the English words at the bottom. Also, there aren't very many extras that come with this DVD; at least as DVDs go. But the film is gripping and suspenseful, and if you're a collector of good foreign films, this would be a great one to have."
A real taste for death
Daniel J. Hamlow | Narita, Japan | 11/14/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The thing that's interesting is the word thesis. It can also mean a theme. Well, Alejandro Amenabar's theme and Angela's thesis are one and the same, examining people's morbidity over images of violent death. The theme can be summarized in the opening scene, involving a man who has thrown himself in front of the train and the people straining to see.Angela Marques is a student at the School of Mass Communications in Madrid. She asks the kindly Professor Figueroa, who's directing her thesis, if he could get access to the video archives, which has some very violent images. He picks a video out and watches it in the screening room. The next day, Angela finds him dead from an asthma attack, but the look in his face is one of fear. She pockets the video he was watching and enlists the aid of Chema, a classmate who has a taste for violent and pornographic videos.To her shock and surprise of Chema, it is a snuff film of a young girl being tortured, beaten, killed, and then cut to pieces with a chainsaw. Chema recognizes her as Vanessa, a student who had disappeared two years ago. However, is Chema telling her everything he knows?Angela then runs into Bosco, a real lady's man who knew Vanessa. He charms his way into her family, even flirting with Sena, Angela's younger and bratty sister. Bosco is a bit of a cad, as he treats his girlfriend Yolanda callously. It turns out that Vanessa had run away with a boy and wrote a letter, but is that true? Things heat up when Jorge Castro, the cinema professor assigned to take over Figueroa's classes and hence directing her thesis, seems to be involved. There's more, but I won't spoil it here.Castro effectively characterizes the business side of cinema, that it is an industry, and in order for it to succeed, it has to pander to what the public wants. His view contrasts the moral side represented by Angela, who while sickened by violent images, is fascinated by them only in an objective, scholarly way, and believes the director has responsibilities in what he/she presents.Eduardo Noriega, who later starred as Cesar in Amenabar's smashing Abre Los Ojos, is perfectly cast as Bosco. He looks more like a retired member of Menudo, a real pretty boy. However, he is topped by Fele Martinez as Chema. With spectacles, long hair, mustache, goatee, and black clothing, Chema is a real contrast to Abre Los Ojos's Pelayo.There is one in-joke. When Angela accesses the database of customers buying a certain video camera, a familiar name is seen. Hint, the initials are A.A. This is a gripping thriller that builds up quicker than Abre Los Ojos and leaves the audience guessing. The gruesome scenes are kept to a minimum. Occasionally, the video switches to the POV of a B&W movie camera, reminding the viewer that we are the audience, the market for people targeted by Jorge Castro, and that the camera is a window to the soul, as someone once said.And by the way, don't be thrown by the plot summary on the back of the video. It's written in Spanish but the movie's subtitled, so nothing to worry about."
Great movie, lousy picture transfer
Jeffrey Leach | Omaha, NE USA | 03/10/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"We wanted to make an "AMERICAN STYLE THRILLER!" says director Alejandro Amenabar and crew concerning the film "Thesis," so much so that you can practically see the all caps and quotation marks whenever anyone mentions the phrase on the behind the scenes featurette. I think this statement even appears on the cover for the DVD edition. The question I have to ask after hearing this declaration is "Why?" Most American thrillers, at least in recent years, are dreadfully boring pieces of chaff churned out with cookie cutter precision. Usually, the characters in an "American thriller" rarely achieve any sort of depth, the filmmakers rely so heavily on special effects and violence as to reduce the plot to mere banality, and the starched, formulaic nature of the film guarantees you can recite the dialogue before the characters do. I suspect the director of "Thesis" probably referred to older American thrillers from the middle part of the twentieth century instead of the pap released over the last couple of decades. Whatever the case, I saw little resemblence to American thrillers as I watched "Thesis." I do think the film favorably compares to one of Dario Argento's giallo films rather than anything released on this side of the pond. And that, my friends, is ultimately a good thing. "Thesis" tells the story of Spanish film student Angela Marquez (Ana Torrent) and her ghastly experiences as she prepares to work on her thesis at university. A closet voyeur fascinated with violence, Marquez hungers to do her thesis on the elusive film genre known as snuff. Snuff, of course, is the filming of real murder for entertainment value, and we all know such things do not exist in any marketable sense of the word. Angela thinks this is true until she asks one of her professors to check out gory footage for her from the school's film vault. When her teacher dies while watching one of these tapes, Marquez finds herself caught up in an increasingly bizarre series of events that prove, among other things, that snuff films really do exist. Moreover, as Angela deepens her investigations into the demise of her professor, she realizes individuals in the university itself may well be involved in filming murders. Several local girls went missing over the past year or so, one of whom appears on a tape Angela obtains from the film vault. No one is safe from suspicion, not fellow film student and gore fan Chema, not a slightly creepy guy named Bosco, not Angela's new thesis advisor. It soon gets to the point that Marquez cannot trust anyone at school as she comes closer and closer to the horrific truth behind the snuff films stored in the film vault. She will, in fact, consider herself lucky to escape with her life let alone finish her thesis."Thesis" is all about atmosphere, and it has plenty to spare. Many scenes in the film are downright creepy. Pay close attention to Angela's up close and personal encounter with the suspicious Bosco in her bedroom, or the trip through the darkened tunnel as the strange Chema tells a weird story, or the scene where Marquez first watches the snuff tape but can only stand to listen to the grisly sounds for a few seconds before turning the whole thing off. Director Amenabar does an excellent job of ratcheting up the tension throughout the movie in a way eerily reminiscent of Italian master Dario Argento. He uses the camera well during extended chase sequences, makes excellent use of lighting during the tunnel scene and the explosive conclusion, and even employs the twist within a twist plot development so beloved by fans of Argento. Unlike the Italian maestro, fortunately, Amenabar's film makes sense as a whole. After watching "Thesis," I am not surprised at all that this director has gone on to bigger and better projects and has drawn rave reviews from film critics. "Thesis" is an excellent debut feature from a promising filmmaker. About the only negative concerning the film is the overly long runtime.There's definitely a message in the film. The idea of screen violence, filmmakers, and the audience receives more than lip service from Amenabar. At one point in the film, Marquez's new thesis advisor delivers a lecture regarding the importance of providing the movie going public with whatever material they wish to see, that a director must pay attention to his or her public if they wish to survive in such a tough business. Is Amenabar criticizing the lowbrow, duplicitous tastes of the masses? Or does he truly believe in the legitimacy of something as abhorrent as snuff films? I think the former, since Marquez serves as an archetype of the typical audience member who professes to deplore violence yet cannot escape the irresistible lure of seeing killings played out onscreen. "Thesis" takes the audience to task for its hypocrisy regarding the love/hate relationship with controversial media often expressed by the public even as they buy tickets to such things by the boatload. The DVD version of Amenabar's film is a letdown. The extras--including a batch of trailers and an effective behind the scenes featurette boasting interviews with the cast and crew--are worth watching. What stinks is the quality of the picture transfer; it is grainy, washed out, and looks like someone lifted it right off a second generation VHS dupe. "Thesis" deserves a better release. It is a movie with a message, more than a few scares, and solid performances from the cast. Many movies claim to cover the topic of snuff films, but none that I have seen as of this date can compare with Alejandro Amenabar's "Thesis." Good stuff."
My name is Angela, I'm going to die.
Jeffrey Leach | 03/15/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Thesis is one of the fastest and most thrilling movies that I've seen in years! Angela is writing her Thesis on audivisual violence. She has enlisted the help of her professor and her reclusive new friend Chema. Her professor has a heart attack while watching a snuff film found in the school's archives. Angela steals the tape before anyone else can get to it and she and Chema watch it. The film stars a missing co-ed and Chema believes they can find the film's origin by locating the unique camera that was used. Are they looking for the filmmaker, or is the filmmaker looking for them? Is there more to Chema than he lets on? What kind of person is the mysterious and charming Bosco? Alejandro Amenabar is BRILLIANT! This is a average story made extrodinary by it's brilliant director and wonderful actors. Fele Martinez is hysterical and poignant at the same time as Chema. Eduardo Noriega is mesmerizing as Bosco (I found myself wanting to stand and cheer every time he was on the screen). This is definitely a must see! It's 100% American in it's action, it's just spoken in a different language (you won't mind reading the sub-titles). If you love movies, give this one a chance. It will blow you away."