“Belzebuth” – Movie Review

What happens when you cross demonic possession, police crime thriller, and throw in Jigsaw himself just to add a little spice?  The result, of course, is the tense and atmospheric paranormal thriller, Belzebeth.  In a subgenre filled with cheesy clichés, it manages to stand out enough to be heard, while also never failing at being downright disturbing when it needs to be.

Se7en Meets The Exorcist
This very same comparison was made when critics described 2014’s Deliver Us From Evil.  And while Belzebuth follows a similar structure, in no way does it feel like it’s trying to mimic it.  Rather, it takes a different approach, and its setting in Mexico gives it a unique feel. It goes much further than Deliver Us From Evil ever did, in both good and bad ways.

If you haven’t seen it, Deliver Us From Evil is definitely worth checking out! It deals with the true story of NYPD Sergeant Ralph Sarchie who got into paranormal investigating.

The film begins with a wave of tragic murders, escalating to the point of being considered domestic terrorism.  Police detective Ritter (Joaquín Cosio) investigates the murders, including a disturbing shooting at a school, and his investigation leads down a dark rabbit hole into demonic territory.  Along with a paranormal researcher Ivan Franco (Tate Ellington), he seeks out the help of a slightly mad, excommunicated priest Vasilio Canetti (Tobin Bell).

They soon realize that dark forces are truly at work, and a certain child with an incredibly important future needs protecting.  The film takes a very gritty detective-style approach.  There’s really only one scene, involving a crucifix coming alive (with very bad CGI) that seems to jump the shark.  It went full Evil Dead, which there’s nothing wrong with in general, but the tone of the rest of the film didn’t quite mesh with it.  However, it’s not quite bad enough to drag the film down entirely.

Amidst some of the the over the top nature, is a brilliantly layered performance by Joaquín Cosio. From the very beginning, he portrays grief realistically and tragically.

Not Afraid of Anything
Part of what makes Belzebuth so compelling is that it has teeth, and isn’t afraid to use them.  There’s an unspoken rule in film that if you kill off a child or an animal, you lose half the audience.  Typically, horror films tend to ignore these rules, but this one goes especially far in that it depicts the murder of an infant and young schoolchildren via school shooting.

These are incredibly unpleasant things to see on screen, but it’s admirable and bold of the filmmakers to not hold back.  The film’s Mexican setting also plays a role in all this.  During one scene Franco asks Detective Ritter why certain child disappearances were never investigated.  Ritter laments that it was a cartel town that that there’s an unofficial rule not to delve too deeply in with them, due to rampant political corruption.

One of the best aspects of the film is its intense mood and atmosphere. We truly feel like we’re part of it all.

That one line suggests that all these awful actions depicted on screen are mere harsh realities in this culture, do the looming cartel control of the government.  It has very real world implications far more unsettling than anything a horror film could portray.

Jigsaw the Exorcist?
No analysis about Belzebuth is complete without discussing Tobin Bell, who steals every scene that he’s in.  Best known for playing Jigsaw in the Saw franchise, he was cast in a quite a few recent horror films, all of which had him speaking in his deep “Jigsaw” voice (to hear his actual voice, watch any film of his from before the original Saw).

Sometimes a performance is just so legendary, it’s hard to escape from.

And in a way, it felt like many of these roles were cheaply written and trying hard to emulate that other iconic character he played.  While he still uses that same voice in Belzebuth, the character here seems to justify it, and Bell really shines.  A former priest, who was excommunicated for performing satanic rituals, there’s much more to this exorcist than meets the eye.

He has a quiet intensity, and is prepared to break any law (or commandment) in order to ultimately do what’s right.  He plays more a supporting role, and the only shame is that we don’t get to see more of him.  Overall, Belzebuth is a tense demonic thriller, that isn’t afraid to disturb its audience!

Belzebuth is streaming exclusively on Shudder!

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