October Horrorshow: Belzebuth

Belzebuth, the 2017 horror flick from Mexico, stakes its claims early on. In the first scene, we see police officer Emmanuel Ritter (Joaquín Cosio) and his wife, Marina (Aurora Gil), at the hospital following the birth of their child. The two are consumed by happiness, as are all the other new parents in the maternity ward. But, not long after, a neonatal nurse starts her shift by stabbing all of the babies in the newborn nursery with a scalpel. Viewers are treated to the nurse’s increasingly bloody arm going up and down, clutching the scalpel like, well, a knife. Ritter’s baby is one of the victims. It’s a hard bit of film to watch, even though the death is one-hundred percent implied. Director Emilio Portes decided to open his film with a shock, but he was still wise enough not to show we viewers any actual dead babies. Thank goodness, really.

But Portes’s and Luis Carlos Fuentes’s screenplay isn’t done with killing children.

Four years later, Ritter is still a cop, and a widower, Marina having taken her life following the death of her baby. Ritter is a detective, and his latest case is a mass murder at a kindergarten, carried out by a young boy. Again, the aftermath of the massacre is hard to watch, even though Portes didn’t show a single child getting murdered. And, there’s still more.

The next mass murder happens at a swimming pool, when one of the custodial workers wires herself up to the building’s electrical system and leaps into a pool filled with kids taking swimming lessons. We don’t see any kids thrashing around in the water, Belzebuthbut jeez. By this point in the film, viewers have been subjected to the deaths of about 50 children. What in the world is the point of all this? Is it just to shock?

I’m sure that’s part of it, but these aren’t random killings. They are actually in service of the plot.

Heavily Catholic in nature, the killings are a failed attempt at assassination. The target? The next coming of Jesus Christ.

It turns out that Jesus has been resurrected, in preparation for the end times. He happened to be a baby at the hospital at the same time as Ritter’s child was there, and circumstance led him to be out of the nursery when the killings occurred. Four years later, the young boy was supposed to be in school for that massacre, but was away from class. He was supposed to be taking swimming lessons, too, but missed those because he was grieving over a cousin who was killed in the classroom massacre. The son of the lord is turning out to be a hard kill.

Which is absurd, really. One of the ideas behind the film is that the devil, or a demon, whatever, is possessing people and turning them into mass murderers, in the hope that neo-Jesus will be among the victims. I have to wonder, if the devil is capable of all this bloody murder, why does he keep missing the target? Eh, whatever. Like with religion, if one wishes to keep enjoying it, it’s best not to ask any questions.

Ritter and his partner, Demetrio (José Sefami), are being overwhelmed by the case, but unwelcome help arrives in the form of Ivan Franco (Tate Ellington), an agent from a US government office that investigates supernatural phenomena. He believes that the killings are being orchestrated by an excommunicated priest by the name of Vasilio Canetti (Tobin Bell and an epic beard). Canetti’s motivations are not so clear cut, however.

The remainder of the film consists of the principals trying to maneuver the new savior and his mother (Yunuen Pardo) out of danger. Along the way there is more murder and mayhem, and a really creepy scene with a demon in an abandoned church.

Portes keeps up a frantic pace, and decides to go with spectacle over scares. The effect is still quite intense.

The biggest turnoff in this film, though, is the gruesome subject matter. Even though it wraps up into the plot very well, it’s off-putting at the start. Portes requires more effort on the part of the viewer than I think a film of this quality deserves. It’s just not good enough.

Still, this is not a bad horror flick. Its intensity is something that is much better received when it is sought out. Should a viewer know going in that there’s going to be a lot of dead kids in this flick (possibly from a helpful online movie review), then there isn’t a problem.

Cosio is one hell of a lead, as well. American viewers might know him from Narcos, and nothing else. But he did a very good job carrying this film. He was a steady presence in a film that relied on extremes, and the shaky climax wasn’t enough to mar his performance. He was a presence in every scene he was in, even outdoing the practiced gravitas of Tobin Bell, who, I hope, got a nice payday for his work.

I’m not that familiar with Mexican horror cinema. But every picture I’ve seen so far packs a wallop. Belzebuth is no exception. Go in with a strong stomach and a fondness for shock visuals, and a horror fan should have a decent enough time.

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