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Film Review: ‘Behemoth’ is a Creature Feature that Never Finds Firm Footing

Visual effects artist Peter Szewczyk’s feature film directorial debut, Behemoth, is a supernatural creature horror built on a minimal budget. It centers around whistleblower Joshua Riverton (Josh Eisenberg), searching for answers regarding his daughter’s terminal illness. His journey with friends Keelee (Jennifer Churchich) and Dominic (Richard Wagner) is full of odd individuals, and supernatural creatures that seem to put their sanity into question. It’s these odd and supernatural elements that steal the show. Whether it’s the demonic ram, a creepy spider-demon, or people missing half a face, the visual effects are terrifying and convincing. These effects are absolutely stunning considering the film’s $65,000 budget, as they are far and above the quality of effects in many projects with ten times the budget. Both the make-up department and visual effects departments, lead by Samantha Tansey and Shane Chambers, deserve praise for how believable the monsters are. Along with the powerful visual effects, the editing and directing assist in creating horror, as the world begins to shift and shake. Director of photography José Andrés and editor Adam Janeczko complement each others work perfectly during the standout horror sequences present in Behemoth. The audio mix from Tim Deane for these sequences is piercing, stirring up discomfort perfectly. These effects are a nasty drug trip, creating a tension between what is real and what is perceived by our conspiracy theorist protagonist. Those sequences, where body, insect, and psychological horror are running at their peak through the filmmaking are the selling point for this creature feature. And it’s furthered by the unnatural performance given by Paul Statman. Statman, playing a lead scientist in the company, frequently challenges the sanity of Keelee, Dominic, and Josh, and it works to create unease. Despite the strong bonds of this friend group, Statman’s performance convinced me that he can tear them apart. Along with Statman, Whitney Nielson gives a strong performance as Amy Riverton, Josh’s wife. She doesn’t have much screen time, but her emotional sequences anchor the films emotional core. Sadly, the remaining performances do little to build this emotional core. Joshua Riverton, who is our point of view character of the film, is acted horrifically by Josh Eisenberg. Eisenberg gives a poor delivery of every line and fails to use body language in a way to add believability to his afflictions. No matter the line, Eisenberg constantly is constantly over-acting without adding genuine emotions to his delivery. It distracts from the film, and considering the paranoid conspiracy theorist character Josh is, it makes it hard to connect to his character. Eisenberg isn’t the sole issue in the film. Jennifer Churchich and Richard Wagner, who play Keelee and Dominic respectively, seem disinterested in the film. They bring little to ground Eisenberg’s performance, though Churchich has a few strong horror sequences in the film that she does great in. However, it’s not just the best performances that are relegated the least screen time. Many of the best creatures have little time in the film, with the Behemoth from the poster having just one sequence dedicated to the monster. The lacking presence of these beasts is furthered by the poor visual effects that populate most of the film. When heads explode in the middle act, the gore seems to be from a video game like Mortal Kombat more than that of a film. There are car chases that are all CGI, and it seems overly fake. That façade of realness perpetrates the entire film, from the first moment to the last. The structure feels as if its missing core parts of the story. From the omitting of an introduction, to drawn out character beats that move too quickly while adding nothing to the story, the pacing is often jarring and disinteresting. This isn’t helped by the underdeveloped characters, and the acting previously noted. The script is a complete mess from start to end, removing you from the story when it should be drawing you in. It’s full of melodrama that never connects and lacks needed character arcs to send home the themes the film attempts to include.  Writers Derrick Ligas and Peter Szewcyzk have crafter a narrative that tries to be both supernatural, and a psychological, horror. The films focus on conspiracy theorists, and the danger of obsession, creates an interesting thematic through line for the film. It can lead to challenges for Josh to deal with, and the disastrous consequences of his searching. But the film doesn’t work to challenge Josh at any point for his obsessive behavior. Rather, we watch as his fears are validated time and time again, and see how the other characters are punished for their lack of faith in Josh. However, in the final two minutes, a completely different theme is inserted into the film, playing up the supernatural horror elements as the company shows itself to be hell, focused on destroying the world for the benefit of the few. While it isn’t at offs with the previous theme established, it doesn’t work in the greater context of this story being told. Ultimately, Peter Szewcyzk’s Behemoth is best left alone. Though its creature designs and horror sequences are truly unnerving, they can’t carry the rest of this dumpster fire out of hell. SCORE: ★1/2

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Written by benjaminwiebe

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