The Day of the Beast

3 out of 5

Directed by: Álex de la Iglesia

After deciphering religious texts and determining the birth date of the antichrist – Christmas Eve, natch – Father Ángel Berriartúa (Álex Angulo) plots to sin as hard as he can in order to get in good with Satan, get an invite to the birth, and then prevent it. In his search for the foulest of deeds and the best way to contact dat Dark Lord, he pals up with metalhead José (Santiago Segura), and TV psychic Cavan (Armando De Razza).

You want to watch that movie, right? I definitely do, and director Álex de la Iglesia definitely wants us to, kicking off with an outlandishly on-the-nose opening sequence in which the weight of faith bears down mightily, and then further introducing the film’s concept by montaging Berriartúa going about committing foul deeds. We don’t quite know the gist yet, but the tone is clearly comedic, and Berriartúa has a wonderfully hapless look about him that sells it as classic slapstick, even when the acts themselves are especially mean-spirited. But this does start to get tired – this shtick is mostly the first act of the movie – and once Day of the Beast slows a beat to explain what’s going on, with Ángel outlining his plans once he’s nabbed for flagrantly stealing a book by Cavan, the momentum flags a bit, because… does this actually make any sense?

That is, I’d say part of the joke, but it’s one the movie isn’t always as cleverly telling as it thinks, with Iglesia bloating his story with some contrivances – extended slapstick bits, some action scenes – that are well executed, but ultimately don’t add very much, and continue to poke holes at the flick’s tenuous grasp on its concept, more by dint of testing our patience than by purposefully commenting on it. Berriartúa essentially doesn’t really have any idea of how to accomplish his plans, and while that helps stir up some entertainingly problematic hijinx – like a demon-summoning sequence that keeps getting more and more complicated – it really taxes the movie’s runtime, even at a relatively slim 103 minutes. And when Iglesia does successfully push this towards commentary, his grasp on structure and coherence becomes especially shaky, like he can only focus on script or visuals, one at a time.

But the overall silly tone keeps it going, and juxtaposing this with some later brutalities helps nudge it into dark comedy territory, its already baiting subject matter aside. I also quite liked that there’s ambiguity here, as to whether or not what’s happening is actually happening; this is also is somewhat bumpily applied, but it’s more subtle than some of the movie’s other elements. And for a $1.5 million dollar budget (at least according to wiki), the movie looks good: Iglesia isn’t afraid to go for big effects, with apparently enough grasp on what was possible with his funds so as to maintain a look that lands well between contextually convincing and campy.

While maybe never quite living up to its pitch, The Day of the Beast is still a unique watch.