Alajandro Amenabar’s 1996 film Tesis was made a few years before he stunned American audiences with his hallucinatory Open Your Eyes, but his debut, which won six Spanish Goyas (their Oscar equivalents), is more impressive. Ana Torrent is terrific as a film student working on a thesis about extreme violence in the media. While researching, she gets wind of a snuff video shot in Czechlosovakia, which is now hidden somewhere in the cavernous basement of her university. With her only confidant being Chema (Fele Martinez), her geeky gorehound classmate who has his own prurient interest in the video, she investigates further and...well, let’s just say she gets into deep shit and leave it at that.
Though Tesis occasionally ventures too deeply into slasher movie mode, it’s always smart and expertly crafted (comparisons to The Vanishing, George Sluzier’s petrifying 1991 cult horror classic, also aren’t unreasonable). It also happens to be scary as all get out, particularly in a relentless final half hour chock full o’ paranoia, pain, and plot twists. Forget about 8mm, the crappy Nicholas Cage vehicle about snuff; Tesis is everything it wanted to be, but wasn’t.