This November, I rewatched Oliver Stone’s JFK for the first time in roughly half-a-dozen years. Let me tell you this, in a world where QAnon has warped the minds of upwards of possibly 15% of Americans JFK, and in a sense all films centred around how lurid and arresting conspiracy theories can be, feels deeply, deeply irresponsible. Stone obviously had no idea that the appetite for conspiracy would balloon into the monster that it presently is, but times obviously change, and it’s impossible (for me at least) to see Jim Garrison as a crusading truth seeker like I did at 15. Instead, I see him as more of a deeply depressed figure, heading down a rabbit hole so he does not have to deal with a world that is rapidly changing around him. Right now, I have no appetite for such thinking.
Thus, I can probably be forgiven for feeling very, very exasperated with the characterization of Josh (Josh Eisenberg) in Peter Szewczyk’s feature directorial debut Behemoth. Josh is convinced that his daughter has been poisoned at the hands of pollutants from the De Point Corporation (get it…it’s like DuPont…) led by the sinister Dr. Luis Woeland (Paul Statman). He’s convinced of this fact because Reddit has told him so, much to the chagrin of his wife Amy (Whitney Nielsen), who routinely accuses Josh of neglecting his duties to his daughter.
Amy seems to be the only sane one inside of Behemoth. Instead of listening to her, Josh turns to his friends Dom (Richard Wagner) and Keelee (Jennifer Churchich), who wholeheartedly believe that Josh’s crusading is worthwhile; although, Keelee seems to be more in that boat than Dom is. After a mishap at a protest against De Point, Josh is shot, and the trio finds themselves kidnapping Woeland, who immediately attempts to break the group through some Machiavellian mind-games.
These mind games take on a new toll when Josh, Dom and Keelee begin experiencing nightmarish hallucinations. For Szewczyk, a visual effects supervisor who has worked on films such as Avatar and 2012, this twist in the narrative reveals what Behemoth’s purposes is. Being charitable, I might suggest that Szewczyk’s emphasis on the film’s CGI components is them playing to their strengths. Being cynical, I might suggest that such an emphasis makes Behemoth feel like a demo reel.
In actuality, the answer is somewhere in the middle, and likely a combination of both possibilities. Because Szewczyk organizes the film’s story around CGI-infused set-pieces, the film feels very much like a demo reel disguised inside a plot that resembles that episode of The Simpsons where Millhouse trades Bart’s soul for Alf Pogs. Keep in mind that this is minus the heart displayed in that infamous episode, and you’re starting to see why this film might not particularly work.
The film definitely has excellent CGI for its budget and scale, but so too does Nostalgia Critic’s The Wall, and that’s a monstrosity. Szewczyk is definitely a better filmmaker than Doug Walker, but it’s not markedly so. Most detrimental here is the fact that all of the performances feel extremely wooden, and each line of dialogue feels as if it were merely a conduit for advancing to the next CGI set-piece. A quick glance at the director’s IMDB page suggests that they are eager to become a prominent director, but Behemoth suggests that there is a long way to go to get to that point.