Written by: Adam Vaughn | August 26th, 2021
Behemoth (Peter Szewczyk, 2020) 1½ out of 4 stars.
It is never a good thing when a movie deviates so far from its premise that one is unable to recognize the film they initially sat down to watch. Once Behemoth moves past its intriguing and effective opening, director Peter Szewczyk completely shifts gears and tells a story with an entirely different tone, and a much less exciting and adventurous one, at that. Behemoth’s most tragic flaw is that it sacrifices its promise of an eerie, demon-filled story (with fun and decently devised visual effects, or VFX) for a lackluster narrative, clunky direction and performances, and an overall upsetting outcome.
Not much can be said about Behemoth’s plot, for the story is quite simple: a father blames his former employer, a medical research facility, for his dying daughter’s ailment. Vowing to fight the system and save his daughter’s life, Joshua (Josh Eisenberg) teams up with his lifelong friends Dominic and Keelee (Richard Wagner and Jennifer Churchich, respectively) to kidnap the medical facility’s director Luis Woeland (Paul Statman). But as the team of kidnappers, evading Luis’ ruthless bodyguard (Vadym Krasnenko), holes up at a small motel, things start to go from bad to worse as supernatural forces surround them all.
The result is a film that relies heavily on its main characters, none of whom are accompanied by believable performances or a decent-enough script to make a difference. Once supernatural elements do in fact come into play, they are completely random and misguided images that do not support the movie. The melodramatic story of Josh trying to save his daughter whilst conversing with an awfully written wife Amy (Whitney Nielsen), is tossed back and forth with the concept of Luis Woeland being a CEO-gone-Satan presence. Ultimately, director Szewczyk struggles to connect Josh’s very personal situation with the larger-than-life and terrifying scenario around him, trying to put emphasis on both at the same time.
On top of those major issues, Behemoth also struggles with various production elements that hinders its effectiveness. The pacing frequently is lifeless, with low energy at points where tension should build. The film’s cinematography and mise-en-scène hardly rise above mediocre composition, and at times Behemoth’s lighting design feels artificial and unmotivated. It’s as if Szewczyk was so fixated on designing the demons and creatures that he falls short on all the other quintessential elements of the production.
Ultimately, Behemoth concludes with a more-than-obvious reveal. I’ll admit that the end result has some very fiendish and beautiful art direction, as the full force of Hell and its hounds come to the forefront, including some incredible costume design for the titular demon. Alas, very few films can be saved by VFX imagery alone, and Behemoth’s effects, while neat, are far from perfect, and certainly not enough to build up an already crumbled and disjointed story, low emotional energy, and an overall ineffective concept.