Belzebuth, showing at this year’s Cinepocalypse Film Fest, takes all the standard exorcism movie tropes, twists them around, and brilliantly expands upon them. Also: Belzebuth has no compunctions about killing kids. Lots of kids.
I only bring this up because some of you have youngsters. It is understandable that you might not want to see little children being murdered on-screen. And I really don’t want you to be the kind of person who gets up and walks out of a movie because it upsets you. You’ll turn into a clickbait headline for an entertainment website. Then, you’ll get on social media and start complaining about Belzebuth, and that might keep people away from it. That should not happen because, and I want to make this perfectly clear, Belzebuth is great.
Director and co-writer, Emilio Portes, doesn’t just smoosh genres together in this film. He combines them, almost seamlessly, into a dark and unsettling thing of its own. Belzebuth is a Mexican police procedural, horror film, exorcism flick, and a movie about getting across the border. It doesn’t seem like those types of stories would play well together. But Belzebuth is its own creature and, surpassing my expectations, it all makes sense.
My quibbles with Belzebuth are minor. As the beleaguered Detective Ritter, Joaquin Cosio is a mumbler. It’s difficult sometimes to hear what he’s saying. The same goes for Tate Ellington, who plays a paranormal forensics investigator. Is there such a job description? I don’t even know. Ellington is a whisperer, and some of his dialogue is hard to perceive. Again, these are minor problems, and you may not even experience them.
The larger difficulty lies in the casting of Tobin Bell as the mysterious priest, Vasilio Canetti. Bell, best known as John Kramer from the Saw franchise, looks great in this movie. Long beard, tattoos all over his head and face; he resembles nothing more than a Great-Grandfather of Anarchy. The problem in Bell’s casting is, well, shit, that’s Jigsaw! You know his voice. His face is familiar. He has become so identified as a bad guy in those Saw movies that it’s difficult to see him as anything else. Bell is great in Belzebuth, delivering necessary exposition in that deep rasp of his. Nonetheless, he’s Father Jigsaw. If you can get past that, you’ll be okay.
The casting might be an issue, but Belzebuth itself is not. The story is clever and tightly constructed, with a third act filled with logical twists. The set decoration is right up there with the best work of Bob Burns. It is shocking in ways we don’t get from most American horror. That’s not even counting the dead kids. Belzebuth runs the gamut from realistic violence to intensely surreal scenes. The movie is intriguing, gruesome, and, best of all, pretty scary.
Please don’t let the extremely high body count of some tiny people keep you from seeing Belzebuth. It is easily one of the best horror movies of the last five years.
Belzebuth premieres Friday, June 14, at the Cinepocalypse Film Fest at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago.