Belzebuth [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Acorn Media
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (23rd September 2021).
The Film

No sooner is police detective Emmanuel Ritter (Savages' Joaquín Cosio) called away from the hospital bedside of his wife Marina (Aurora Gil) and their newborn son to a case than he is called back to the hospital for the horrifying crime of a nurse who murdered several newborns (including his son) before slitting her own throat. Five years later, a widowed Ritter is called upon to investigate another mass tragedy in which a twelve-year-old boy gunned down several younger children in a classroom before turning the gun on himself. While he and his veteran partner Demetrio (Amores Perrros' José Sefami) try to discover anything about the boy that would explain the sudden outburst of violence, the crime is also being investigated the Vatican's paranormal forensic team lead by Ivan Franco (Straight Outta Compton's Tate Ellington) who not only discovers non-human prints that suggest something escaping the boy's body as well as a few seconds of EVP (electronic voice phenomena, or psychophony) that repeats itself every hour at the crime scene. Even though Ritter and Demetrio have been informed by Elena (Frida's Aida López) – mother of a child who was absent from the class the day of the shooting – that she and her son Isa (Liam Villa) had been approach by a man with occult tattoos who claimed something bad would happen to Isa's cousin Jonathan (who was killed in the classroom) and that there were more tragedies to come, they give little credence to Franco's findings until the same evidence turns up at a community center where a janitor dumped into the pool during a children's swimming class with an electrified cable (a class in which Isa was also enrolled and fortuitously absent that night). Franco identifies the man Elena described as Vasilio Canetti (Saw's Tobin Bell), a Jesuit priest excommunicated by the church for practicing Satanic rituals. Ritter and Franco trace Canetti to a narco town and the Church of the Children which ministers to single mothers and orphans with the advertisement "Your child could be the next messiah."

While watching a film featuring multiple mass-casualty scenes involving little children, Belzebuth feels like a welcome throwback not so much to the late sixties and seventies possession and Antichrist horrors of Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen – although it does share a plot thread with The Final Conflict – but more so to the smaller boom of turn-of-the-millennium Satanic horrors like the derivative-but-atmospheric The Eighteenth Angel or the bombastic and empty Stigmata. Belzebuth is just as absurd – perhaps even more so in attempts to distract the viewer by piling on exposition of the film's mythos (apparently "esoteric criminology" is Vatican forensic speak for the study of demonic possession) – but it is ultimately well-executed as a "religious thriller." Rather than the American treatment of Mexico as the Ninth Circle of Hell, this film references lawlessness and institutional corruption more casually in the way Demetrio and Ritter plant drugs in the backpack of the dead boy as a means of not only pushing his grieving mother to really question her observations of her son's recent behavior but also in anticipating the need to provide a satisfactory explanation of the crime to the media. When the subsequent links between the subsequent mass killings become evident, Ritter pursues Franco's avenues of investigation but knows that they will need to provide some kind of scapegoat to satisfy the public. While Cosio's burnt-out detective is a cliché of drinking, poor sleep, and auditory flashbacks, the crisis of faith underlying his own surface cynicism ("In Mexico, even atheists are believers") makes his skepticism at odd points in the film seem more organic than convenient. While Bell is becoming overexposed as a horror star, he is not yet at the Lance Henriksen/Hellraiser: Hellword stage of phoning it in; as such, he is able to navigate the third act's multiple plot twists with an admirable degree of conviction (including an almost laughable last act and line of dialogue). As a first horror film from comedy director Emilio Portes, Belzebuth is a minor work but a worthy watch if one can look past the typically overblown praise that comes with the marketing of Shudder product and pickups.
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Video

Digitally-lensed on the Arri Alexa, Belzebuth's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.41:1 widescreen image looks quite good on Blu-ray despite the usual uninspired trendy grading. As is the case with Acorn's concurrent release of Terrified, the back cover incorrectly cites a Region 2 PAL encoding with the 25fps running time – it is 1080p and all-region – and it may indeed be identical to the American Blu-ray from RLJ Entertainment who now distribute Acorn stateside (only the RLJ logo appears before the main menu).
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Audio

Although the end credits note that the film was mixed in 7.1 surround, the disc only features a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track of the original mix of sync-sound Spanish and English dialogue. The 5.1 track is just as directional and possesses the same kind of rumbling bass one expects of American studio genre product. The disc includes both English SDH and Spanish SDH subtitle tracks. Spanish dialogue is translated through burnt-in bold English subtitles while the English SDH transcribes the English dialogue only and the Spanish SDH track transcribes the Spanish dialogue and translates the English dialogue near the top of the frame to avoid the overlapping with the aforementioned burnt-in English subtitles.
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Extras

There are no extras.
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Overall

More of a throwback to millenium-era Satanic horror films than the sixties/seventies heyday of the Antichrist, Belzebuth is a minor but worthy "religious thriller."

 


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