In the past few days I’ve been catching up on 2019 horror releases to check whether they would fit my “best of the year” list or not. After completing production in 2017, the Mexican possession film Belzebuth, directed by Emilio Portes, was released on VOD a few months ago and was mentioned in quite a few worthy “best of the year” articles.
This movie is, actually, an American-Mexican co-production which stars, among others, the legendary Tobin Bell (yes, Jigsaw himself!). The film is spoken in both English and Spanish, and it tries to revive the good old days of Mexican supernatural horror from the 60s and 70s.
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My review is also available on IMDb – Belzebuth (2017)
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Belzebuth – Plot and themes
Belzebuth follows Detective Ritter who, after losing his wife and new-born child in a very tragic way, must investigate a massacre at a school perpetrated by a student. This seems to be another case where one of the vicious drug cartels in the country forced a kid to commit terrible acts of violence but, after the intervention of a priest of the Vatican backed up by a very peculiar swat team, the religious connections to the event become increasingly clearer. Together with priest Ivan Franco, Detective Ritter is required to put a stop to devil-fuelled tragedies, all the while trying to cope with what happened to his family five years before.
Belzebuth pulls upon the country’s culture and social climate. Very pointedly, Emilio Portes’ Belzebuth tells a tense story that’s set on both sides of the US-Mexico border and centres around a number of deaths of children who are at the border. The main focus slowly shifts from one about class strife to a supernatural thriller that involves demons and exorcisms.
Good and evil in Belzebuth
In fact, this film consists of two movies in one: on one hand, there’s the investigation part of the story, which feels incredibly tense and creepy; on the other, a supernatural horror flick filled with twists and alternative versions of Catholicism. While the duality works on paper, it fails at delivering in its execution, though. In terms of overall quality, Belzebuth feels as though it was directed by two different people, since the first hour of the movie is riveting, unsettling and rather unique, whereas the remaining 45 minutes come off rather silly and pretentious in terms of plot points.
Belzbuth starts off very promising, with an opening scene that will truly send shivers down your spine: before the title card appears, the movie opens in an incredibly brutal and unapologetic way that, also, develops Detective Ritter’s motivations for the rest of the runtime. What follows is a very interesting mystery-thriller filled with disturbing sequences and improved by the presence of subtle commentary on the relationship between Mexico and USA. The sombre colour palette and understated performance from the main characters only enhances the sense of dour realism this movie so brilliantly builds up.
However, a laughable scene revolving around a possessed CGI statue marks the beginning of a rather disappointing second half of Belzebuth. Here, Tobin Bell’s character is introduced: while the actor’s performance is charismatic and effective as usual, his character feels very forced, since everything we know about him is delivered measly through lazy exposition. In fact, the second half of this picture is incredibly exposition-heavy, with all the information being spoon-fed to the audience in a rather uninteresting way. Yet, the supernatural action that takes place doesn’t differ from any mediocre possession flick you can think of, with the uninspired colour palette and cinematography only making things worse.
While I would recommend Belzebuth to fans of supernatural horror, the movie felt like a huge disappointment to me, as its beginning and first half were really building up to something better. Still, plenty of other reviewers really dug the film, so you can check it out for yourself in case it sounds interesting to you.
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