Dir: Alejandro Amenabar, 1996. Starring: Ana Torrent, Fele Martinez, Eduardo Noriega. Cine en Espanol.
A man jumps in front of a train and commits suicide, forcing everyone to exit and walk past the bloody scene in a tunnel. Among the commuters is Angela (Ana Torrent), a college senior. She witnesses the curiosity of the passengers who eagerly try to get a glimpse of the morbid scene, and she, too, wanders closer in order to get a look. She decides to write her thesis paper on audiovisual violence and its relation to the masses. The interest comes from not only the scene on the train, but the roll of violence in the media. However, being new to the concept, and yet observing it all her life, she finds many obstacles in obtaining footage that is violent and/or pornographic. In short, she comes to the conclusion that she needs access to footage that is too crude for television.

There are two sources that she expects to be quite lucrative in her quest for information. The first is her cinema professor, who is directing her thesis and has access to the school's film archives. The second proves to be more beneficial. Chema (Fele Martinez), a fellow student in her class, is rumored to be a sadist with a personal library of the kinds of films she needs to research. When she asks to see his collection, he is cold and unresponsive, but soon agrees to help her based on her good looks. What he shows her would be the equivalent to the shock value films, Faces of Death—film compilations that feature real accounts of torture, executions, etc. She's disturbed by the films, mainly because she realizes that there are people like Chema who are target audiences, and therefore the films have a sort of industry.

Meanwhile, her professor searches the school's archives for material and stumbles onto a cache of unmarked videos in the boiler room. He takes one of the tapes and watches it on campus, only to later be found dead in the glow of a static screen by Angela. A heart or asthma attack is the formal cause of death, but investigators and officials are interested in seeing what the professor was watching that put him in shock. Of course, they can't find the tape because Angela beat them to it.

When she and Chema watch it they discover that it's a snuff video, featuring the torture and murder of a former classmate who's been missing for two years. Chema watches the video closely and notices the features of the camera and within hours he realizes what model it is. He also discovers that the film was edited whenever the victim, Vanessa, tried to address her attacker, which means that she most likely knew him. Angela discovers that the school used to own 13 cameras with the model matching the one that the film was made with. All 13 cameras are now unaccounted for. The two also discover the cache and realize that several other girls at their school met the same fate as Vanessa. Angela then abandons her thesis in order to play investigator with Chema. They interview people who know Vanessa and dig deeper into the case files following her disappearance. They come up with a suspect list, only to find that those highest on the list are people that they know personally. Soon the two become entangled in a web of fear and deception as the killer and his accomplice try to clean up their tracks and put an end to their investigation.

What I enjoyed about the film was its sense of perspective, especially in terms of Angela. The movie weaves through her nightmares, desires, and behavior in order to urge you to make a judgment call. Is she really just a student trying to understand a macabre phenomenon, or is she a closet sadist?

What I disliked about the film was the irony and hypocrisy. There's a segment where a news anchor talks about Vanessa's case and following this, informs the viewers at home that they will broadcast the footage of her torture. The whole thing is presented as something of great interest to those at home, which gives into the message of “give the people what they want.” This is the general stance of those creating the snuff films, therefore, whose side are you supposed to be on?

Chema's character adds to this irony and hypocrisy because he owns and watches these types of films, which are real accounts. Only when his own life, and the lives of those he cares for, are threatened does he make any attempt to be concerned. So the film's point is somewhat lost in the ambiguity; is it pronouncing audiovisual violence as a desensitizing force that can be dangerous, or is it claiming that everyone likes to be a voyeur when it comes to violence? Are shows like Cops and films like Faces of Death normal, or are they crushing the effect of violence on the human psyche? The choice is up to the viewer, and yet, that makes it seem as though there is no message.

Still, as a whole, the film was an exciting thriller, successfully putting you in the shoes of two people who anticipate their own demise and simply don't know when to expect it. You could also make the claim that Chema's affection for Angela humanizes a man who is entertained by death and pain. Even with its faults, I think it’s an interesting story that gets you thinking. It's sort of like a low-budget Videodrome, with less visual effects, but the same message on media responsibility.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Sep 26, 2011 11:44pm
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