The Quarantine Stream: 'Belzebuth' is Nerve-Shredding Religious Horror
(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: Belzebuth
Where You Can Stream It: Shudder
The Pitch: Following a series of brutal massacres involving young children, a weary Mexican police detective finds a hell of a lot more than he bargained for when he digs a little deeper. Emphasis on the “hell.” They don’t make religious horror movies this brutal, intense, clever, and wildly blasphemous very often.
Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: If you’re looking for a light distraction during these troubled times, something to ease your mind and put you in a comfortable place…well, you should avoid Belzebuth, the 2017 Mexican horror movie currently streaming exclusively on Shudder. But if you’re the kind of person who finds comfort in the discomfort, who turns to frightening fiction when the real world increasingly resembles a nightmare, director Emilio Portes’ religious horror epic will scratch a very particular itch. Until it bleeds.
Belzebuth lets you know it means business early, literally opening with a horrifying sequence involving the mass murder of numerous infants in a hospital nursery. If you can stomach that (and there will be absolutely zero judgment from me if you cannot), know that the film continues to deliver the bone-chilling goods for the rest of its 114 minutes, walking a fine line where it manages to feel genuinely shocking without feeling exploitative. The violence in this film feels – appropriately enough given where the plot goes – biblical. This is what happens when a police procedural crashes headfirst into the most nightmarish elements of the Christian Bible. You know, the book filled with monsters and mass murder and violence that makes most horror films feel tame in comparison.
I don’t want to dive too deep into the plot of Belzebuth here, because the film ultimately reveals itself in its second half to be a religious horror riff on one of the most famous genre movies of all time (the final shot even actively quotes it like a big ol’ wink). You deserve to witness those reveals for yourself. But I will say it involves a jaded Mexican cop, a Jesuit paranormal investigator from the Vatican, and a seemingly insane former priest (played by horror icon Tobin Bell) circling a series of massacres involving children, which may or may not have occult connections. Yes, they have occult connections. No, you will not see the exact nature of those connections until they coalesce in the film’s deranged and satisfying back half, where the story of a dogged cop investigating brutal crimes becomes The Exorcist meets…well, that would be a spoiler.
What’s not a spoiler is that this film feels dangerous and raw in a way that most American horror films simply do not. The south-of-the-border setting not only allows for a series of culture clashes between the American and Mexican characters, but opens the door for timely commentary and the unique use of locations and concepts that simply could not exist in a story that takes place elsewhere. Plus, it’s impossible to imagine a Hollywood studio saying yes to a screenplay that features the death of many, many children as an integral plot device. And while many horror films have featured blasphemous imagery, there’s a sequence in Belzebuth involving a decrepit statue of Jesus on the cross that feels deliberately designed to make every Catholic in the audience whisper ten Hail Marys. I’m not a religious person and it made even me feel uncomfortable, like I was watching something profoundly wrong and evil.
You probably already know if this sounds up your alley or not, if this is the kind of horror movie you need in your life right now (or ever). But if this is the kind of international horror cinema Shudder will continue to support, consider me a subscriber for life. Long live Shudder. God bless you. Or Satan bless you. Whatever you prefer.
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