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BELZEBUTH (2017)

Directed by Emilio Portes
Written by Luis Carlos Fuentes, Emilio Portes
Starring Tobin Bell, Tate Ellington, Joaquín Cosio, Giovanna Zacarías, Aurora Gil, Aida López, Norma Angélica, Enoc Leaño, José Sefami, Yunuen Pardo, Alondra Benitez, Conde Fabregat, Boris Schoemann, Mercedes Hernández, Liam Villa, Felipe Tututi, Damaris Rubio

BELZEBUTH is epic storytelling paired with fantastic performances, a very twisted take on religion, and some extremely disturbing scenes of mass murder.

The tale begins with a harrowing scene of a mass murder in the viewing room of in a hospital. After happily greeting his newborn child into the world, a police detective named Ritter (Joaquín Cosio) witnesses the mass murder, including his own child, as a nurse who seems to be in some sort of trance stabs the babies in the locked room. By the time they break in, the damage is done and Ritter weeps violently at the death of his child. This is a scene right out of a nightmare and it sets the stage for the harrowing events that follow. Years later, Ritter finds himself in the middle of another mass murder and when an American paranormal team is paired with his police unit, the size and scope of the horror becomes clear. It all involves a Satanic cult, a madman covered in tattoos (SAW’s Tobin Bell), and the second coming of Jesus.

BELZEBUTH is a relentless horror film that pulls no punches and isn’t afraid to cover taboo material such as the death of children. While these scenes aren’t easy to watch, it is refreshing to see this Mexican movie take such risks and highlight some horrors that most American films won’t touch. The film also tackles some pretty taboo topics regarding religion as Ritter, once a man with much faith and hope, is now a shell of a man after the death of his child. The handling of this is not just for shock. The emotional impact of these horrifying deaths are front and center on the face of the film’s lead Joaquin Cosio who is overwrought with guilt and remorse about his own loss. While he attempts to keep his distance from those he serves, even treating the relatives of the victims with a cold and distant hand, Cosios’ Ritter can’t help but get involved and his trek through darkness is quite a fascinating story.

What most will take away from BELZEBUTH are the scope of the mass murder scenes and how intricately played out they are. It reminded me of the way FINAL DESTINATION or SAW sets up their elaborate death sequences as we, the viewer, are witnesses to the build-up, the execution, and the aftermath. The camera follows the events that lead to the mass deaths and you are strapped to it with no control over the harrowing events that are about to happen. Just as Ritter was trapped behind the glass forced to watch someone kill his child, we are trapped behind our own screens helpless to save these innocents from death. This is a highly impactful place the director places us in, forcing us to witness these terrible things. While most horror does this, I was most aware as the danger slowly and meticulously approaches these unsuspecting groups of children.

The film also has some seamless and elaborate practical and CG special effects sequences. Some are simply plays on light and shadow. There is a great sequence in a red lit room where our group of heroes are literally forced to enter a portal to hell. Another sequence with a statue of Jesus on the cross is CG, but lit in a way that makes it all work well. This is a film that understands the limits of its effects and maximizes them through simple lights and darks—it’s a level of filmmaking that seems lost these days in big budget, well lit, and fake looking effects shots of Hollywood flicks.

While he is not your typical leading man material, Joaquin Cosio kills it as Ritter. He looks unkempt and weary, huffing and puffing from his heavy weight and sweating profusely from more than a lot of days missed at self care. I admire this film for not going for your typical route with a slim and sexy lead who despite his penchant to drink a lot and not take care of himself, somehow he still has a six pack and a full head of hair. Ritter’s journey from beginning to end is a fascinating one as his lack of faith leaves him open to possession and he has to fight his own demons as well as the real ones that are causing all of this commotion. The other notable star, Tobin Bell is fine but while his presence is big here, every time he talked I couldn’t help but think of the SAW movies. I guess that’s just his voice, but I think Bell should try to develop some way to differentiate his roles as he’s just Jigsaw with tattoos here.

BELZEBUTH is a little long in the tooth and at times, I feel the epic scope is stretched a bit and this might have been a much cooler trilogy or two part movie. Things really rush to an apocalyptic showdown and I think that somewhere connecting the little mystery of the mass deaths and the final showdown, there are a few steps lost in the narrative. Still I loved the lead character and felt a lot of the scenes were both imaginative and terrifying. If you’re a religious person, BELZEBUTH is going to hit on some touchy subject matter as all kinds of iconography is twisted and warped in these harrowing sequences. It’s a film reminiscent of films like THE OMEN, THE EXORCIST, and the apocalyptic/possession/satanic movies of the late seventies and early eighties, but its framework is also both film noir with the weary detective story, the conspiracy, and the investigation, and the blockbuster style film with the wold-ending scope of the finale. There’s a lot to swallow with this one, but for the most part BELZEBUTH works.
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