What to Watch Verdict
'Behemoth' might sport some slick visual effects but that doesn't excuse forgettable performances and an overall production that detrimentally becomes nothing more than a one-note showcase.
🏃♂️ Listen, the digital additions can be pretty rad.
🏃♂️ Cringy dialogue.
🏃♂️ Uninvestable characters.
🏃♂️ Forgets that films need more than flashy VFX.
🏃♂️ Feels like a rough cut.
The hesitation that accompanies Behemoth—or any visual-effects heavy feature debut from a special-effects specialist for that matter—is that practical or digital designs will be the sole focus. I think of titles like Harbinger Down, Alec Gillis' directorial debut, and how there's nothing worth mentioning outside creature creations minus a few Lance Henriksen lines. Peter Szewczyk showcases his animation expertise in franchises from Star Wars to Ice Age to Harry Potter, which generates hype regarding the horror landscapes Szewczyk ambitiously aims to build. The problem? Behemoth requires more than a few hypnotizing visual sequences where underworld guardians materialize from pixels and hotel rooms morph into satanic bad trips—performances, script work, and direction all seem like afterthoughts next to the proficient displays of visual rendering that become the film's only passable aspects.
Joshua Riverton (Josh Eisenberg) is a publicized whistleblower against the De Pointe global chemical company—the same entity he once served as an employee. Josh's spiral begins when his daughter falls terminally ill, a sickness brought on by De Pointe's environmental negligence. Now Josh devotes every waking hour to uncovering the conspiracies hidden by those like Luis Woeland (Paul Statman), who oversee De Pointe's scientific research divisions. Josh's investigations get heated when he confronts Woeland in an alley with friends Keelee (Jennifer Churchich) and Dominic (Richard Wagner), which could cost everyone their lives.
The shame of Behemoth is that everything from "corporations are the devil" commentaries to marital breakdown subplots could be rougher around the edges than the first chiseled wheel. As a general observation—one that's an easy stab but unignorable—there's rarely a moment where Behemoth doesn't detrimentally feel like a do-it-yourself indie featuring unknowns. It's hopelessly unpolished whether bleeding characters with bullet injuries forget they're in pain, or lines are broken by stammers or pauses or outright arms-length investment. Whitney Nielsen as Joshua's wife Amy is the only actor who sells the dramatic implications of their arc, a neglected partner who cannot idly watch Joshua's continuing downward plunge into subreddit insanity.
It's an epidemic across the entire cast. Even bouldery bruiser Vadym Krasnenko as Woeland's bodyguard Azello conveys the imposition of a pet rock. There's never a question whether Azello escaped from Hell, but Krasnenko's performance is one of absolutely zero demonic recognition. Kidnapping sequences exhibit no tension; silver-tongued monologues about Lucifer's secret business society are just spoken words that tingle no resonance. Behemoth is a movie about ultimate humane evils lead by characters who struggle to even navigate a fight between husband and wife without cracking pace or contradicting themselves through dialogue in consecutive sentences. Do you have to flee before cops appear or stay to give the cops your explanation—well? Granted, that's a screenwriting problem, and just one of countless examples introduced by Szewczyk and co-writer Derrick Ligas.
"We can't poison the Earth overnight, someone might give a shit." What a stinger of a line that gets lost in the word-salad nonsense that talks itself in circles.
You're watching Behemoth for Szewczyk's computerized renditions of Hell, which thankfully remains the crowning production achievement. Horrors present range from scalding goats blistered by glowing orange lava wounds to an insectoid monster that chases Dominic into barbed wire—just don't expect an onslaught of effects throughout the film's entirety. Szewczyk's coup de grâce is a hallucinogenic freakout where Joshua's rented room starts gushing blood from the ceiling, object outlines become colorized squiggles, and a window into Hell breathes fire through wood paneling. It's a showcase for the professional talents Szewczyk has become industry known for birthing, but only excuses five, maybe ten minutes of Behemoth at most? Passion and heart do not mean a breakout is inevitable.
Behemoth is as unaccomplished a horror tale—storytelling to presentations—the genre's seen from filmmakers who struggle to locate their defining voice behind the camera. Peter Szewczyk takes roughly eighty minutes to light the screen ablaze with ghouls, charging undead rams, and the power behind post-production effects done well beyond typically underwhelming CGI touch-ups. There's arguably a better short in here where it only takes ten minutes to reach Szewczyk's bread and butter, but that's the risk gambled on feature lengths. Take your pick of descriptors from "emotionally inept" to "disjointed" to "unintentionally laughable" depending on the moment—marketed on VFX, failed by just about everything else.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.