Belzebuth (2019) [Cinepocalypse 2019]

It’s stunning that there has never been much stride made in the realm of possession movies. It seems like “The Exorcist” was the beginning and end of the sub-genre, followed by decades of films that ranged from serviceable to downright abysmal. “Belzebuth” further proves that theory as it’s a middling horror thriller that’s densely packed, kind of confusing, and ironically manages to deliver some good scares from the real life atrocities it depicts rather than the images of demons, evil Jesus Christ, and exorcisms.

After losing his family in an inexplicably horrific murder involving a hospital nurse, special border agent Ritter must investigate a series of deaths involving young children on the border, which stirs up memories of his own tragedy years before. What seems like a clear case of random mass murders takes a dark turn when a priest from the Vatican links the case to possession, exorcism and an ancient demon named Belzebuth. Set on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, the film takes full advantage of the narco pipeline that frequently binds the two nations and acts as the setting for the battle of good and evil.

As I mentioned in the previous paragraphs, “Belzebuth” is surprisingly dense and takes a lot of attention to decode what exactly is going on. Writer-Director Emilio Portes packs the narrative with so many layers of mysteries, and mythology, and twists and turns. The film even watches as something of a true crime thriller in the first twenty minutes. Once it begins to delve deeper in to the more evil aspects of a random school shooting, “Belzebuth” then dives head first in to the realm of supernatural horror. The sudden shift in genre and tone often feels jarring, especially with how the prologue involving Tobin Bell feels shoe horned in for the sake of reminding us what kind of film we’re supposed to be seeing.

The even more jarring introduction of an English speaking, American supernatural investigator and priest played by Tate Ellington makes “Belzebuth” often feel like elements just cobbled together to comprise a coherent thriller. The fact that Ellington’s character gets almost no exposition, thus he feels blatantly implanted for the broader horror audiences in the American market. Portes’ horror mystery manages to grab some pretty solid scares, including a confrontation with a sentient Jesus statue, as well as the solid plays with light and dark in the climax.

The stand out among the cast is Joaquín Cosio, who the script should be focused on, as “Belzebuth” could make a great tale of his character Ritter’s experiences with pure evil and pure good. Portes sadly makes the mistake of pushing him off to the side in favor of Ellington and Bell’s characters. “Belzebuth” could use a lot more clarity in its narrative along with some nipping and tucking in the editing bay; it’s a mediocre thriller that doesn’t re-invent the wheel but might make some good filler down the line.

Cinepocalypse 2019 runs from June 13th until June 20th.