J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Shudder Exclusive: Belzebuth


Mexico is a very Catholic country, but also one that is plagued with violence. There are plenty of fears and anxieties rattling around their national collective subconscious. However, the shocking crimes Det. Emmanuel Ritter will investigate are far worse than anything committed by the cartels. Things get downright satanic in Emilio Portes’s Belzebuth, which premieres today, exclusively on Shudder.

Ritter’s involvement in this whole evil affair began when his family was the victim of an unspeakable atrocity. He is still haunted by the death of new-born infant son, who was mercilessly bludgeoned by a nurse, along with the rest of the maternity ward. Of course, we can guess she was in fact possessed by a demon, because we are watching Belzebuth on Shudder. Five years later, the bitterly widowed Ritter is called to investigate the mass murder-suicide of an elementary school class. Although it seems open and shut, Ivan Franco, a Vatican-trained FBI pathologist soon finds links between the school massacre and the hospital infanticide, as well as a subsequent case of mass murder at a public swimming pool.

Initially, Ritter scoffs at the supernatural, but he soon sees some freaky things he cannot dismiss. He also starts pursuing Father Vasilio Canetti, an excommunicated priest rumored to conduct black masses. Both his spooky facial tattoos and eye witness accounts placing him at the scene of the crimes a few days prior make the defrocked Father a highly suspicious person-of-interest. However, Ritter and Franco will have to contend with genuinely demonic perils when they discover the true purpose of the horrific crimes.

It is hard to believe Portes was previously known primarily as a director of comedies. Even though his debut, Meet the Head of Juan Perez, had some morbid elements, it is still a world removed from the soul-choking tension of Belzebuth. Frankly, this film is terrifying. The public atrocities it depicts might be too much for some viewers, especially in light of real-life tragedies, but the tone is never exploitative. Instead, it considers issues of good and evil with all due seriousness and urgency.

Father Canetti is also one of the most intriguing and unsettling horror movie characters of the decade. Tobin Bell (best known as Jigsaw in the Saw franchise) will make your blood run cold and your head spin before upending all your assumptions with his unforgettable performance. Frankly, his work as Canetti is a prime example of why there is a need for more prominent horror movie awards.

Joaquin Cosio is almost as memorable portraying Ritter, covering a considerable emotional spectrum, under extreme circumstances. He also develops some solid cop-buddy chemistry with his long-suffering partner Demetrio, nicely played by Jose Sefami. Tate Ellington rounds out the strong ensemble, handling all the investigative and religious business quite convincingly as the virtuous Franco.

It is hard to scoff at the term “Satanic Panic” after watching Belzebuth. It is worth repeating: this is a very scary film. Highly recommended for fans of supernatural horror, Belzebuth starts streaming today (8/29), exclusively on Shudder.

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