Tobin Bell as Vasilio Canetti
Joaquín Cosio as Emmanuel Ritter
Tate Ellington as Ivan Franco
Giovanna Zacarías as Leonor
Aurora Gill as Marina Ritter
Aida López as Elena
Yunuen Pardo as Beatríz
José Sefami as Demetrio
Co-written and Directed by Emilio Portes; Co-written by Luis Carlos Fuentes
The concept of possession has been one of the longest-lasting and most exhilarating of the horror genre when executed correctly and though motivations have mostly been left as a mystery in the past, there are a handful of films that see explanations given, some smart, others lackluster, and while Emilio Portes’ Belzebuth offers a fairly interesting justification for its events and scares, some of the dialogue and plotting can’t quite live up to its efforts.
Special Agent Emmanuel Ritter is enjoying the arrival of his newborn baby with his wife, but before she can be discharged from the hospital, a monumental tragedy strikes that leads to him losing both and heading towards a personal downward spiral. He is put on the case of a series of shocking massacres in his area, in which he comes across a paranormal forensic investigation team led by a Vatican priest and learns of a dark being responsible for the murders and must search for an excommunicated priest who may have knowledge on how to bring the madness to an end.
The opening minutes of the film may be a bit tonally imbalanced and over-the-top, with Tobin Bell’s narration feeling very mismatched with the happier moments of Ritter’s wife giving birth and the two preparing for a happy future, but its transition into its tragedy is smooth and incredibly effective, resulting in quite the jaw-dropping start for the events to come. As events unfold and more massacres occur, the character development of Ritter feels interesting and compelling, with the crime scenes themselves all proving visceral and shocking, though what it’s setting up feels very reminiscent of the Denzel Washington-starrer Fallen. Though there are some plot elements that many will not see coming as the film progresses, the clear connection of “an evil entity is driving these deaths” kind of makes it clear where some character arcs are heading and takes away from some of the originality on display.
The mood of the film finds a nice balance of working to keep its story grounded in reality while also delivering a number of solid scares, even if a number of the scares themselves prove predictable or expose some of the weaker dialogue and acting from its cast. One notable scene comes near the middle of the film as Ritter and Tate Ellington’s Ivan Franco investigate a seemingly abandoned church and are confronted by a form of the titular demon inhabiting a porcelain figure of Jesus on the cross. It’s a well-shot scene, keeping the more haunting elements in the dark and creating a highly-tense scene, but the dialogue from Franco in the scene does kind of suck the tension away as it becomes cyclical and pad the scene rather than just allow Ritter to “peacefully” interact with the demonic presence.
That scene aside, however, the majority of the scenes find a great way to deliver chills and scares that, even if seen before, still prove to be a thrill ride for genre fans. From unique takes on classic exorcism scenes to great practical effects work, the horror in the film is mostly enough of a joy ride to put aside some of its more lackluster writing and uninteresting performances. It’s not that the actors don’t appear to be trying, with Cosio delivering one of the better performances in the film, but even decent performances can’t quite seem to elevate some of the material.
Belzebuth may have quite a bit of dull dialogue and predictable plotting, but thanks to some skillful scares and a few points of originality, this is a chilling enough affair to strike fear in the hearts of the easier-to-frighten at the least, if not genre fans.