Belzebuth

2 out of 5

Directed by: Emilio Portes

An interesting concept immensely hobbled by a slow-to-the-punch, wayward construction.

Mexico: several mass killings of children – by adults, by other children – are investigated by Detective Ritter (Joaquín Cosio), trying to put a mental distance between these crimes and a similar one five years ago, in which his newborn child was killed.  Part of that mental distance apparently involves being a complete bastard to the parent of a child involved in one of the incidents, which is one of several off affectations that Belzebuth employs which prevents us from understanding the tone or direction of the film.

Along those lines: Ritter is granted “help” from the US via a paranormal investigation unit led by Ivan Franco (Tate Ellington), but it’s unclear if the evidence they provide – odd voice recordings from the scenes, UV-lighted handprints on ceilings – are meant to be convincing of the legitimacy of some supernatural element or not.  Franco is partially represented as clueless – but then again, so is Ritter – and it’s really only that we’ve been given a glimpse of Tobin Bell’s arcane-symbol coated body at the beginning of the flick that we immediately assume there likely is something else going on.  When Bell – playing a defrocked priest – is spotted lurking around the crime scenes, Ritter and Franco begin to pursue him as a suspect, which leads to further exposure to weirdness that ultimately convinces Ritter – whole hog – to buy what Franco is selling.

The sequence in which this occurs has an interesting visual, but it’s also a very sudden confrontation that doesn’t prompt the “right” response from a duo who’d previously only seen indirect indications of such things.  They draw guns and shout.  However, it does kick the film into next gear, explaining the point of what we’ve been seeing.  The explanation, while intriguing, immediately dispels any sense of mystery, not even halfway through the film… but maybe that’s okay, because now we’ve shifted into escape mode: running from the evils.

…Until we’re halted in the middle of that, as well, for a rehash of guns drawn and shouting, and now we turn into a different type of film once more – and one that doesn’t make much sense for the characters, in the current context, to participate in.  A mass of sound and fury follows, with further interesting visual concepts that again don’t feel properly supported by the reactions we witness, and a sort of underwhelming punctuation of people getting picked up and slammed down as a way to end each sequence.

By the time we arrive at the conclusion, the dodgy direction we took to get there is made “clear,” and while it doesn’t cheapen things, necessarily, it leaves the question of whether or not a better film could’ve been made by playing it a bit straighter, and allowing us to stick to a more streamlined tone.

Despite my problems with the sequencing, director Emilio Portes has a generally good sense of setting and framing within a given scene, and he gets a really good performance out of Joaquín Cosio, with the caveat that I didn’t understand why he badgered that one parent…

As a side note, the sound mixing seemed really poor to me – I could hardly hear Tate Ellington’s lines, and there’s some distorted speech used that’s pitched such that I found it pretty hard to discern as well – but maybe that was just my speakers, or just Shudder’s streaming, etc.