It’s impressive how supernatural horror films have had such resurgence in the past decade. This has lead to some great and utterly unnerving films (The Conjuring) and some that are about as terrifying as a wet mop in a dumpster (The Devil Inside). There will always be something in this genre that keeps it from dying out. While our fear in the tangible (a crazed knife wielding psycho) can wane it is a fear of the intangible that never ceases. The knowledge that something is lurking out there and we can’t see, hear, or fight it using a typical weapon is a disturbing thought. And it is ripe for some great stories. Which brings us to the subject of this review. Belzebuth is a new Shudder original starring Tobin Bell of Saw fame and Joaquin Cosio from FX’s The Strain.
The plot is a simple one. After a life shattering event tearing his family apart Detective Ritter (Cosio) buries himself in his job. He becomes the cynical protagonist we’ve seen multiple times over. When other mass murders happen in brutal fashion begin crop up Ritter teams with a paranormal investigator (Tate Ellington). Together they try to find the connection between them and a larger overall sinister plot. As well as how a defrocked priest (Tobin Bell) falls into all of this. A pretty standard story that is ripe with potential. Now, how does all of this pan out?
“Hundreds of believers have announced the anti-Christ.”
Credit where credit is due, the cast does a great job. Bell has been consistently working for close to 30 years. Of course after lying on floor in a pool of blood for over a week he became a horror icon. Saw gave the man a huge career uptick and has allowed him take on larger roles in bigger projects. Here he is initially limited in the beginning (probably due to having him for only a finite amount of days to shoot). But opens into some great moments where he gets to shine doing what he does best. The ambiguity of whose side he’s on in this fight gives him a cunning edge one moment and a soft vulnerability the next. But this doesn’t take away from our lead.
Cosio is an actor that has been working in film for less than a decade. But in that time has racked up a nice list of credits. The film hangs on his performance as he is in nearly every scene. Thankfully he does a fantastic job giving Ritter a pulse and emotions. This here shows he deserves more leading man roles and I can only hope he gets them. I will admit that Ellington’s character does get slightly sidelined between Cosio and Bell’s performances. This leads to him being more of a tool to spit out exposition than a full fledged character. Luckily he gets a few moments to shine.
With all the great acting there are a few cracks that plague this film. First and foremost the runtime closes in on two hours. This causes some pacing issues that occasionally stop the film in its tracks. In particular Ellington’s exposition dumps are a prime example. This would typically be a minor problem on most other films, but horror hinges so strongly on pacing that some of the film’s tension is unfortunately undercut. If the runtime had been trimmed down 15 to 20 minutes it would have helped put some life into the film.
“He has experienced evil in it’s deepest, darkest form.”
The writing also has a few wrinkles. When a genre is flourishing this means you’re going to be treading on well worn tropes. Stories and plot points will overlap from one film to the next. It’s on the writer to figure out how to take those tropes and figure out how to breathe fresh life into them. Here Belzebuth drops the ball as the majority of the story is a little cut and paste. The change of scenery to the harsh hot brightness of Mexico makes it feel different from the typical spooky farmhouse or gothic castle, but its more window dressing than anything else.
From what I’ve gathered director/co-writer Emilio Portes has typically been known for comedies in the past. And while the film is better thanks to two great actors it shows he has promise. If he ever decides to dip his toes back into the genre with a stronger script I’d be happy to see what he can do. But if you’re a fan of exorcism/supernatural horror Belzebuth is a serviceable film that falls into the one and done category for me.
Overall Score 2.5/5
Belzebuth begins streaming on Shudder beginning August 29th.