One of the most intriguing aspects of religion-based horror is how perspectives and norms differ between cultures. Mexico’s Belzebuth, for example, blends border crossings and themes of “familia” into what might elsewhere be a more straightforward demonic affliction. Emilio Portes’ “second coming” horror story breaks a favored genre rule early, often, and with morbid enthusiasm: don’t axe children. Satan’s a cruel punisher; don’t expect him to take pity on newborns, toddlers, or grade schoolers. That’s what grants Belzebuth the evilest of exorcism vibes, which ups grave endangerment within a wild and savage (un)holy war against Hell’s most ruthless assassins.
Mexico experiences by a string of domestic terrorism attacks targeting innocent children. Detective Emmanuel Ritter (Joaquín Cosio) follows the case, attempting to piece together clues that are not visible. Enter U.S. Spectral Investigator Ivan Franco (Tate Ellington), who Ritter assumes was brought in as a joke. Apprehension plagues their relationship until Franco proves something undefinable is behind recent events. Could the mysterious vagrant who witnessed crime scenes be playing a part (an extradited man of the cloth played by Tobin Bell)? All Ritter knows is the killing must stop, even if it takes hallowed combat to bring an end to the bloodshed.
Raven Banner is selling Belzebuth, but as of its Cinepocalypse screening, there is no stateside release date. Until that wrong is righted, here are three reasons to embrace the apocalypse Ritter must fight.
1. An Unlikely Trio Of Demon Hunters
Belzebuth exudes the personality of an Álex de la Iglesia film (note: this is good). Three unalike characters are forced together by a common enemy, all featuring distinct personalities. There’s Emmanuel Ritter, the grieving law enforcer who must face a string of horrific child massacres after losing his own family. Ivan Franco, the American paranormal investigator who’s called to assist Ritter like a “real Ghostbuster,” Ritter jests. Then there’s Vasilio Canetti, an excommunicated priest who pursued sacrilegious practices frowned upon by the church. Tension, as you might assume, runs thick.
Wrapping the de la Iglesia comparison back around, each character is distinctly presented and uniquely attributed. You’ll barely recognize Tobin Bell, who’s cloaked, covered in tattoos that bare bedeviled markings across his head and exposed body (think biker thug outlaw priest). He’s a straight apostle badass, quite the opposite from Franco’s white button-up shirt and black tie (like “Specs” from Insidious). Ritter is the loose cannon, the non-believer, and the questioner of both accomplices’ otherworldly means. Together their ghost fighting squadron clashes, gels, and plays their character arcs with lively differences: the tormented lows, bonding highs – all of it.
2) A Hybrid Of Horror Subgenres
Belzebuth often shapeshifts to defy stagnant classification. At first, cult violence sees human minions execute mass murder, either slashing up nurseries or blowing up movie theaters with homemade explosives. These are horrors of modern times; what you’d witness breaking live on CNN. Then, after those immediate pains, Franco’s introduction illuminates handprints climbing up classroom walls with UV blasts. From here Portes pivots into supernatural, cult-driven mayhem, and “ghost hunter” aspects of Satan’s latest attempt at besting God’s divine intervention. Tragedy unfolds the heartbreak of parents burying their children, then Franco’s esoteric research creates a case for genre entertainment.
But wait, there’s more.
I bring up Álex de la Iglesia once again because films of his like Witching & Bitching or The Day Of The Beast do not shy from creatures, or morbidly imaginative representations of evil. As Ritter and Franco investigate Canetti’s heretic hideout, an interaction with a Christian crucifixion statue brings their foe to life in an unexpected form. From here, Canetti appears and we’re thrust into a cat-and-mouse game that leads to Ritter guiding the film’s precious cargo through a hidden, underground cartel tunnel. Beasts are revealed by red flare glows, exorcism aggression costs multiple lives, and we come full circle from humanity’s senseless violence to the devil’s grand entrance. As far as horror cinema goes, Belzebuth is a bloody grab bag of mayhem, thorny jolts, and bleeding hands.
3. An Exorcism Film That Takes Risks
When presenting a film about slaughtering children en masse to prevent the second messiah from ascending, there’s risk involved. Not everyone can endure adolescent deaths on screen; movies normally err on the side of caution. Don’t get me wrong: Belzebuth pulls no martyrdom punches and is graphically despicable in terms of acted-out underworld suicide missions. That said, it’s never about pushing an audience that far into devastation for no reason. Mourning adults serve a greater storytelling purpose, creating this pulpy and tragic fight against satanism by running alongside said devils. Keep your enemies close and all that.
Emilio Portes hath wrought Satan’s wrath into an exorcism tale that lunges for your throat; a total kill-shot film that wastes no opportunity to test viewers. Belzebuth throws everything including the kitchen sink at us, except the kitchen sink is possessed and when it smashes, all unholy hell breaks loose. Not every ambitious reach is equally meritorious, but Portes does wonders by incorporating cultural identity into an otherwise overused horror format (exorcisms/possessions). Possibly overlong, sustainably entertaining, and one of the better exploitations of Heaven, Hell, and the chaos of being caught in the middle. Belzebuth, do your worst.