Director: Emilio Portes
Writers: Luis Carlos Fuentes, Emilio Portes
Stars: Tobin Bell, Joaquín Cosio, Tate Ellington
Language: Spanish and English
It wasn’t me.
In Belzebuth, director Emilio Portes delivers a compelling story about an ancient demon, the Vatican, and a father grieving the loss of his child. As the film opens, Special Border Agent and Detective Emmanuel Ritter (played by Joaquín Cosio, El Narco, Spider-Man: Into the Spider–Verse) is at the hospital with his wife, celebrating the birth of their baby boy. Things quickly take a turn for the worst, however, when a nurse locks herself in the baby room … with a sharp knife. What follows is a series of disturbing situations in which an otherwise normal, innocent person becomes possessed by a demon and commits a mass murder. These events range from a school shooting to a pool electrocution. And one thing Belzebuth doesn’t do is shy away from the horror of such events. The people, the tension, the devastation — we witness it all, but not in the over-the-top shock value way. The larger story involving Ritter’s tragedy gives everything a sense of purpose.
As Ritter begins to investigate the murders, it becomes evident that these are more than just routine cartel crimes or border tragedies. A group of forensic scientists discover that the killers do not leave any fingerprints or evidence of their involvement. However, on the ceilings of the crime scenes, there are — unexplicably — fingerprints left by all of those who were murdered. Ivan Franco (played by Tate Ellington, Straight Outta Compton, Sinister 2), an EVP-specialist, shares his recordings of demonic voices from the places were the incidents occurred. And, to top it all off, there is a shunned priest Vasilio Canetti (played by Tobin Bell, Saw, Mississippi Burning) who is deemed crazy and evil by those around him — that is, of course, until you have a situation like this with an ancient demon named Belzebuth and you want a priest who is willing to work around the Vatican’s stuffy exorcism rules.
In an overabundance of mediocre exorcism movies, Belzebuth stands out. Each of the actors — from the main players to the side characters — does a tremendous job. Not once did I feel like I was just watching a horror movie (if that makes sense). In other words, I was immersed in the story from the start, and I believed what I was watching. The only thing that was unclear to me is what happened to Ritter’s wife. I’m sure it was revealed (whether they divorced or she died), but it flew under the radar. And I wish that the demon’s interest in the young boys was less complicated. The characters were compelling enough that the story could have been much more straight-forward. That said, my complaints about the film are in short supply.
There are several gruesome scenes, but the violence never comes across as gratuitous. Each murder serves to highlight how high the stakes are, and the way the story escalates is masterfully done. We begin with a very routine birth at a hospital and end with a lot of chanting, evil laughter, and creepy-ass rooms. Moreover, the director did a great job of taking advantage of the U.S.-Mexico border landscape and incorporating the narco pipeline into a story about demons rather than drugs. Finally, one of the things I most look forward to in exorcism horror is the dialogue about faith and belief, and it is in no short supply here. Belzebuth is a movie that makes you both think and feel, and what more could you want from a horror movie than that?
The North American premiere of Belzebuth took place at the Cinepocalypse Film Festival on Friday, June 14, @2:15pm CST, with a second showing on Tuesday, June 18, at 9:30pm CST. The Cinepocalypse Film Festival ran from June 13 to 20, 2019, at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, Illinois. More information can be found here.