As Ángela is sitting on a commuter train, it halts and passengers are told to evacuate. A man has committed suicide by jumping in front of the tracks and died. While being led out of the station, Ángela begins to move towards the tracks to see the man's remains. She is warded away at the last instant. Ángela is a university student in Madrid, writing a thesis on audiovisual violence in the family. At a thesis meeting, she asks her thesis director, Professor Figueroa, to help her find the most violent videos in the school's video library. After class, Ángela seeks out the help of a fellow student, Chema, who is known for his collection of violent and pornographic videos. As Ángela begins to watch violent films with Chema, Figueroa finds a tape in a hidden hallway of the school's audiovisual archives. The next day, Ángela finds Figueroa dead in the university's viewing room. She takes the video tape from the player and leaves for class. Ángela later learns that Figueroa died of an asthma attack, and that a younger professor, Castro, will now be directing her thesis project. Ángela goes to Chema's house to watch the film, and Chema realizes that this is a snuff film, or a film of someone being murdered. As they watch the women being tortured, killed and disemboweled, Chema realizes that the women in the film was named Vanessa, a girl who attended their university and went missing two years ago. Chema and Ángela are also able to determine which kind of camera the killer used, a Sony XT 500, based on the quality of its digital zoom, and that the film was shot in someone's garage.
While at the library working on her thesis, Ángela sees someone using an XT 500 camera. She leaves the library and realizes that she is being followed by the man. She runs through the hallway but her pursuer, a handsome young man named Bosco, catches up. He notices that Ángela has a newspaper clipping about Vanessa's disappearance, and states that he knows what happened to her. Ángela pretends that she is filming a report about Vanessa's disappearance and asks if she could interview Bosco about it. At the interview, Bosco insists that Vanessa must have run away with a boyfriend, because she sent a note to her family saying that she was in love. Ángela is convinced of Bosco's innocence, but Chema believes he is a psychopath. Once home, Ángela realizes that Bosco is inside her house waiting for her. Although initially frightened, Bosco charms Ángela's family and they invite him to stay for dinner. Once alone, Bosco attempts to seduce Ángela, although she resists his advances. At the school video library, Chema asks a security guard to see the security tape of the library on the night of Figueroa's death. That night, Ángela has a dream that Bosco performs oral sex on her and video tapes it.
At a thesis meeting, Professor Castro asks Ángela what she knows about Figueroa's death. Ángela denies all knowledge, but Castro has a security tape of the viewing room, which reveals Ángela passing by Figueroa's dead body and taking the video. As Ángela is about to admit why she took the tape, Chema calls. Ángela answers the phone in a separate room and Chema tells her to leave Castro's office immediately, saying that Castro is involved in the snuff film. Ángela hurriedly flees Castro's office. Later that day, Bosco's girlfriend, Yolanda, comes to Ángela, and explains that she, Vanessa, Bosco and a friend of Bosco's had been taking a class on snuff films two years ago with Professor Castro, when things began getting out of hand. Yolanda states that she believed that Chema, Bosco's old friend killed Vanessa in order to make the snuff film. Yolanda reveals that Chema was also in the snuff film class after stating that. Once with Chema, Angela asks him whether or not he knew Bosco, and Chema admits that he did, but that he left the snuff film class as soon as things got out of hand. At night, Chema shows Ángela the hidden library corridor he discovered on the security camera. Once in the corridor, they find shelves of video tapes, revealing that many other women, apart from Vanessa, had been murdered on camera. As they discover this, the door to the hidden corridor closes and they realize they have been locked inside. Chema and Ángela walk through the corridor, with only a match lighting their way. They realize they are going to die. Chema and Ángela fall asleep in each other's arms as the light of the last match dies.
When Ángela wakes, she discovers that the lights have turned back on and Chema is gone. She walks towards a doorway and is chloroformed. She awakes tied to a chair, facing Professor Castro. Castro apologizes to Ángela for having to kill her. He admits that he only edited the snuff videos, and that Ángela death would be much cleaner than Vanessa's. As he aims a gun at Ángela head, Chema appears and wrestles with Castro. The gun goes off, and Castro is killed. Ángela and Chema escape. Once at her house, Ángela father tells her that her sister, Sena, is at a party with Bosco. Terrified, Ángela hurries to the party. Once there, Sena refuses to leave with Ángela, insisting that Bosco is in love with her. In order to force her sister to leave, Ángela approaches Bosco and passionately kisses him. The next day, Ángela informs Chema that they need to see the police. Although first reluctant, Chema agrees, and tells Ángela he must take a shower before going. While Chema is in the bathroom, Angela finds an XT-500 camera among Chema's things. The tape inside the camera reveals footage taken of Ángela from outside her bedroom window. Convinced that Chema was stalking her, Ángela flees. She goes back home to advise her sister to remain safe. Afterwards, she takes a taxi to Bosco's house, followed by a figure in a black rain coat.
Once at Bosco's house, Bosco and Ángela talk about their relationship. Suddenly, light turns off and Bosco goes to the basement to check. As he takes time, Ángela goes downstairs to see what has happened. She finds out that Bosco is lying on the floor. Chema has followed her to the house. A struggle ensues and Bosco beats Chema to the ground. Chema tells Ángela to look at Bosco's garage before falling unconscious. Once in the garage, Ángela realizes that it is the same background from the original snuff film of Vanessa. Bosco appears and subdues Ángela, tying her up and explaining how he intends to torture and kill her. However, Ángela unties herself with a knife she collected before, steals his gun and shoots him dead. Ángela visits a recovering Chema in the hospital and asks him out for coffee. She tells him that she is going to abandon the thesis. As Chema and Ángela leave, the news reporter announces that they will be showing footage from Vanessa's snuff film on air.
As film made by a film student about film students, much of Tesis is metafilmic and comments on the Spanish film industry, Hollywood influence and the voyeuristic nature of the horror and snuff genres. Following the aesthetic of the American horror genre, Angela operates as the "Final Girl", or resourceful female protagonist that defies stereotypical feminine traits. Although Tesis fits the suspenseful mold of a Hollywood horror flick rather than its symbol-rich European counterpart, according to European film critic Marguerite la Caze, Tesis has a thesis: "human beings, no matter how well-meaning, are attracted to violence and death in all its forms".
Tesis has generated much critical analysis due to its study of the fascination of violence. Film critic Leora Lev discusses Angela's ethical rejection and simultaneous attraction to violent images as this film's primary conversation. Lev states that Angela's psychosexual conflict with both the snuff film and the murderer, Bosco, is emblematic of the culture that consumes violent films and reality television series.
After the fall of Francisco Franco's military dictatorship in the late seventies, Spain began transitioning into democracy. The shift from a strictly conservative regime to a Westernized democracy resulted in drastic cultural changes known as La Movida. These changes included the introduction of contraception and abortion, the inclusion of women in the public sphere, and a decline in Catholicism.
Violence Against Women
Even after women were considered members of the public sphere during the democratic transition, violence against women was still considered a private or family problem. It wasn't until the late nineties that the Spanish Government began enforcing policies or regulations dealing with the issues of domestic abuse and rape. In 1995, the year Tesis was being created, the United Nations held the first Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, which defined violence against women as: "Any act of violence based on gender, which may result or actually results in physical, sexual or psychological harm, including threats, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, in either private or public life". This definition began shaping regulations in Spain during the late nineties, and many laws and acts have been passed since.
Although women in Spain earned the right to vote under Franco's military dictatorship, divorce was impossible, women could not open bank accounts, obtain passports, or buy property without their husband's permission. During democratic transition, Spain's socialist government created the Institute for Women in 1983 in order to promote equal rights. Women's rights have been slowly, yet continuously improving since the military dictatorship fell, and Spain in the 1990s was witnessing the beginnings of these cultural changes.
Ángela, the protagonist of Tesis, is a female grad student. This is an unusual, but not unheard of, occurrence for the time period. Ángela's younger sister, Sena, is starting to study law. Amenabar's female characters in Tesis, with the exception of Ángela's mother, operate almost solely in the public sphere.
During the mid-nineties in Spain, reality television became one of the most consumed genres of entertainment. In 1993, the brutal killing of three young women became the fixation of the Spanish population. After finding the bodies of the three missing teens in a ditch, showing evidence of torture and rape, television channels rushed to report the investigation. The subsequent trial of the murderers also captured national attention.