Det. Ritter (Joaquín Cosio) is a hard-working cop celebrating the birth of his son, but the boy’s been breathing fresh air for barely a day when tragedy strikes. A disturbed young nurse locks herself in the nursery and stabs multiple newborns to death. Five years later, the now-widowed Ritter catches a case involving another massacre that has taken the lives of children, but while the school shooting is disturbing in its own right, he discovers the murders are connected to the ones which claimed his infant son. Soon he’s caught up in an apocalyptic race against time featuring a paranormal investigative team from the Vatican, a rogue priest, and lots of dead children.
Belzebuth isn’t fooling around when it comes to its horror, and I’m not joking about those dead kids — there are a ton of them here. That might be an understandable turnoff for some genre fans, but for the rest of us director/co-writer Emilio Portes and co-writer Luis Carlos Fuentes deliver an intense, supernatural procedural pitting mere humans against a demonic force desperate to claw its way into our world. The age of its frequent victims makes for an unnerving watch as while most films shy away this one returns to the terrifying threat to the young ones more than once making for an at times harrowing watch.
Devil-related films often bore as they can rely too heavily on possession and exorcism, but while those elements rear their uninspired heads later in the film, the bulk of the movie finds far more grounded ways to terrify and thrill. The mass murder sequences of children are crafted with real suspense and grim awe while avoiding truly explicit visuals, and violence in general is equally well-designed and executed. The evolving story is equally compelling as the reason for the child murders comes to light, but even then, can the tellers be trusted? The film offers up a ticking clock scenario with the lives of innocent kids on the line, and there’s a palpable intensity to its momentum and dark energy.
Some of the effects stumble later in the film — a splash of CG blood is offensive to the eyes — but a fantastic sequence partway through involving a large, crumbling crucifix is a cool and creepy visual delight. It’s a tense scene involving grief, loss, and an imminent threat, and the f/x bringing it to life are unusual for the genre but extremely welcome. The scene becomes an unexpected mix of frightening and fun, and it’s a real high point.
Cosio (Quantum of Solace) is a big plus here as his atypical appearance and presence as a leading man add an earthy reality to the proceedings. He’s no action hero lead, but you believe him as both a rundown cop and a man fighting tooth and nail to end the horror unfolding before him. Tate Ellington is equally good as the nerdy, ghost-busting priest on a mission for god, and the always great Tobin Bell brings the mysterious, tattooed ex-man of god to life to play havoc with loyalties and expectations. All three do good work with characters bringing differing perspectives and responsibilities to the action.
Belzebuth‘s third act can’t quite live up to what’s come before as it settles into some more familiar beats, but it still goes out on a high with some grisly action and conspiratorial nods. Portes and company deliver a devilish dip into terror complete with a near allegory about US/Mexico relations via what unfolds in deep border tunnels, and the result is a far meatier supernatural thriller than Hollywood typically has to offer. It’s most definitely not for the faint of heart, but if you have the stomach this slice of Mexican horror cinema is a must-see for genre fans as it’s a bloody, frightening, and exciting thrill ride that brings viewers to the doorway into hell.