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Thesis (Alejandro Amenabar) 1996

    That Thesis, the debut film from Spanish horror director Alejandro Amenabar, is so clunky in its execution makes the masterful films that heís gone on to make since (Abre los Ojos, The Others) all the more impressive. What begins as a campus-set exploration of snuff film violence quickly descends into a series of false scares (oh, it was just a cat!) that arenít really scary and heavy-handed moralizing that simply feels churlish, since it keeps us from enjoying any of the excitement weíre watching for. Apparently, Amenabar thought an appropriate context to sermonize about the sickness inherent in wanting to see faked violence was in the middle of his horror movie. Since the audience of a horror movie, is watching to get scared, grossed out, and excited by the violence, and since Amenabar is more than happy to provide an ample amount of said brutality, the lecture seems an utter waste of time. I donít think any stable-minded fan of the horror genre, or even snuff films, is naÔve enough to lack the distinction between reality and fiction. Watching a staged knife murder for entertainment is not the same thing as encouraging others to commit knife murders, no matter how much youíre willing to pay to see that knife murder, and Thesis doesnít ever really differentiate between the two, nor does it differentiate between the audience and critics of gore films. Call it a hunch, but I doubt Joseph Lieberman curls up in front of the TV to watch Faces of Death after a hard day of lobbying for its censorship. Perhaps, in a country more conservative in its attitudes toward violence, like Spain, these arguments havenít been made yet, but to my American sensibilities they feel trite.


    Silly lecturing aside, Thesis still doesnít work most of the time. It doesnít help matters that the premise, which explores the existence of an underground snuff ring that hides under the guise of a film school, makes little sense. Most of the film plays out like a lurid Nancy Drew case as Angela (Ana Torrent), the female protagonist, unravels obscure clues and gets closer to the horrible truth that weíve strongly suspected from the start. Naturally, since this is a horror film, the characters do stupid things to place themselves in danger repeatedly instead of involving the authorities. The series of double-crosses and wavering suspicions that are laid out as the film proceeds do little to intrigue, and end up protracting the running time to an excessive 121 minutes. It only manages to be startling in passing, and thatís terribly disappointing. The filmís murky look seems appropriate, however, and adds to the feel that what weíre seeing is a fourth generation duplicate. Any comfort or enjoyment gotten while watching Thesis has to reside in the knowledge that Mr. Amenabar would go on to do better things.


* 1/2 


Jeremy Heilman