This article proposes that Alejandro Amenábar's Abre los ojos (1997) is an example of what I term cine de choque, a specifically Hispanophone category of film in which the word choque – translatable as “crash”, “shock” or “clash” in English – informs both theme and aesthetics. In this particular example of cine de choque, an aesthetic is created on the basis of a structure in which lulls are almost as important as the film's crash, shocks and clashes. The film's lull–choque–lull aesthetic, I argue, emphasizes the allure of image and false explanations in the life of the protagonist César. This allure is partly explained by the absence of authoritative, patriarchal figures: both his parents are dead and the older male figures which compete for his attention prove to be unreliable. The resulting evocation of a culturally and historically orphaned youth culture in Spain helps to contextualize the film's acts of violence.