Mateo Keegan Burbano
11 October 2019
Tobin Bell, is there no movie that your grizzled bald head won’t improve? Clearly, the answer is no. See Belzebuth if you need proof.
Directed by Emilio Portes, this Spanish/English language film set on the Mexican side of the U.S./Mexican border, uses a number of current hot topics to tell its terrifying tale of Satanic possession and a battle of good and evil of biblical proportions. Joaquín Cosio plays Emmanuel Ritter, a detective in Mexico’s Federal Police. Ritter is called away on police business from his wife’s side at the hospital, where she’s just given birth to their son. What follows is the gruesome murder of a maternity ward filled with infants, including Ritter’s son, by a clearly possessed nurse who also slits her own throat.
Jump to 5 years later. Ritter is called to the scene of a school shooting where 33 children and teachers were killed. The dead includes the shooter, a middle school student, who blew his brains out. A young mother watches a news report of the attack. Her young son, Isa, wakes from his nap and tells her he had a dream his cousin and he were being chased by the devil at his school. His cousin turns out to be one of the school shooting victims.
Another attack occurs at a public pool where over a dozen children are taking swim lessons. An American government paranormal investigative division inserts itself in the investigate, to Ritter’s annoyance. The Americans, led by ex-seminary student, Ivan Franco (played by Tate Ellington) prove to Ritter that something supernatural and demonic is at play with the crimes, and a pattern of similar child slayings stretches back six years to the hospital attack involving Ritter’s son. Ritter and Franco also learn that a mysterious tatted-up priest was seen at each of the crime scenes.
Eventually Ritter, Franco, the priest, the mother and her son, Isa, paths all converge after Isa and his mother survive a suicide bombing at a cinema. The priest is Vasilio Canetti (Tobin Bell). A grizzled man excommunicated by the Catholic Church for conducting Satanic rituals in the Vatican. At first, Father Canetti is set up as the villain behind the attacks, but it turns out Ritter and company are facing a more unholy enemy and are at ground zero for an enduring battle that stretches back to the Crusades.
According to Father Canetti, the first crusade was begun by a church that was under the enemy’s influence with the goal of killing a child born to a Muslim couple in Jerusalem, a child that was the reborn Christ. At one point, the group entertain the idea that Christ has been reborn in Mexico. Emmanuel scoffs at the idea and asks why Mexico. The priest answers, “Where else? London, Paris, Dubai? He was meant to be born in a country oppressed by an empire.”
The young boy, Isa, becomes the battle ground heavenly and hellish forces are fighting over. All the attacks, including the hospital attack where Isa had just been removed from the maternity ward, have all been attempts to kill Isa. The group work together to smuggle Isa and his mother into the U.S. using underground tunnels used by drug and human traffickers. Once underground, the chase is on and the intensity is ratcheted up. Bodies start dropping and allies turn against allies as Satan plays the group against itself.
In a world where you can’t attend a concert, go shopping at your local Walmart, watch a film premiere in the cinema, or spend the day at a garlic festival without fear of being gunned down, the idea such violence could be blamed on some religious death cult would be reassuring. The film taps into modern anxieties about random and meaningless mass violence that seems to have become our new normal. Many parents in the U.S. started off the school year shopping for bulletproof backpacks for their kids. In cities like London, knife attacks with unclear motivations seem to have become commonplace. In countries like Afghanistan, events that should be celebrations of life, like weddings, have become targets of terrorist attacks. Films like Belzebuth can sometimes help distract us from our anxieties and fears of a violent world by ascribing the causes of violence to some larger, supernatural entity outside ourselves. The bad man, demon, or otherworldly entity responsible for our present nightmares is identified, hunted and put down. By the end of the movie, the heroes make the world somewhat safer. In this way, part of the appeal of horror movies is their placebo effect of momentarily reducing our constant state of worry.
4 out of 5 swimming pools full of dead children
Belzebuth is currently available to stream on Shudder