Mexican Satanic Thriller

Tobin Bell of Saw fame and Joaquín Cosío (The Strain) star in Belzebuth, a sprawling demonic possession thriller set on the Mexican border. The mostly Spanish-language horror movie from filmmaker Emilio Portes (Pastorela) is a pastiche of different formulas, made with an eye on Mexican and religious audiences.

One part gritty procedural and two parts freewheeling Satanic thriller laden with religious imagery, Belzebuth is a tale of two halves that don’t work together. What starts out as a gritty mystery leaning on paranormal forensics becomes an overheated action horror movie, as a CGI demon battles the good guys and tempts their souls. There are some interesting and creative ideas that haven’t been explored before in the genre. They simply don’t fit all together in Belzebuth.

The first hour is a tense mystery with eerie undertones, driven by a couple of fantastic and shocking set pieces. An entire neonatal unit becomes a site of great tragedy in Belzebuth’s unforgettable opening scene. What follows in the second half is a long slog through a relentless demonic conflict as the protagonists fight for their survival.

… some major editing and a tighter screenplay would have worked wonders for Belzebuth’s nigh unwatchable second half

Five years after a grizzled police detective loses his young child in a terrifying murder, a series of shocking child murders connects him with a trained paranormal investigator from the Vatican. The investigation leads them down a dark path that threatens their lives and eternal souls. Believing there is a link between the murders and an ancient demon, a former priest (Tobin Bell) keeps showing up whenever the murders take place.

The bloody tale of demonic possession starts going wrong when the plot invents its own Christian mythology, introducing a reincarnated Christ child that will bring about the Second Coming. It also turns the demon into a walking, talking crucifix statue. Which may have worked out better if the CGI creation didn’t badly stick out in the otherwise atmospheric and creepy set design.

Joaquín Cosío is a strong lead as Lt. Detective Emmanuel Ritter. Skeptical of the “gringo” paranormal investigator forced on him, Ritter slowly learns the reality of pure evil when he meets the demon face to face. Tobin Bell’s mysterious priest has occult markings all over his body and head, becoming more important later in the movie. Bell has made himself a genre legend with stoic performances and a steel-toned voice.

I really wanted to like Belzebuth. The possession thriller has the right atmosphere and nicely sets up the characters with conviction. The first hour is masterfully done with taut pacing and crisp suspense, building up to a harrowing climax between the forces of good and evil.

The change in tone becomes palpable as the movie shifts into an all-out survival battle between Ritter and the forces of darkness. Belzebuth morphs into a crazy, over-the-top action horror vehicle. Filled with fake-outs and mind-numbing plot jukes, the gritty thriller devolves into a mindless struggle. The horror movie seemingly goes on and on with baffling developments. Nearly two hours in length, some major editing and a tighter screenplay would have worked wonders for Belzebuth’s nigh unwatchable second half.

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A promising demon thriller with real grit and convincing energy from Mexico devolves into a hackneyed conflict with a CGI demon.

User Review
2 (2 votes)

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