Nefarious | WORLD
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MOVIE | Christian psychological thriller uses demonic possession to ponder America’s ills

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➤ Rated R
➤ Theaters

The horror genre, with its predilection for the demonic, is one of the few places in which Hollywood still invokes religious themes—though rarely in a Biblically faithful manner—and in a bit of irony, ­horror is the genre the faith-based film industry tends to avoid. The Christian horror film Nefarious dips its toe in these dark waters, avoiding safe sentimentality, using demonic possession to ponder the fight for America’s soul.

Edward Wayne Brady (Sean Patrick Flanery) is a serial killer awaiting execution, and his final opportunity to escape death depends on James Martin (Jordan Belfi), a psychiatrist who must ­discern whether the prisoner is mentally competent. In the interview, James finds himself locked in a battle of wits with a murderer who also proves to be a master manipulator. Edward’s answers to James’ probing questions don’t sound sane, but the prisoner says he doesn’t want to avoid execution.

Very quickly, the already dark film takes a darker turn. Edward claims to be a demon named Nefarious, and he shares intimate details about James’ life that he has no business knowing. Even more startling, Edward claims that by the end of the day, James will have committed three murders of his own.

Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman wrote and directed Nefarious to serve as a prequel to Steve Deace’s novel A Nefarious Plot. The book aspires to be an updated version of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, in which a demon explains his plan for America. The book uses a humorous tone that’s wholly absent from this film. Nefarious is an intimate psychological thriller that wisely focuses on the relationship between Nefarious and James. Almost all the action takes place on the scheduled day of execution, and much of it occurs in one darkened interview room.

The tight focus on the two main characters’ conversation in an enclosed space lends the film a stage-play quality, with dialogue that, at times, crosses the line between representational and conceptual. Belfi’s James has an air of confident naïveté. The psychiatrist claims to be an atheist, but his ­confrontation with Nefarious leaves him disconcerted. This verbal wrestling match between the rationalist and the demon symbolizes secularism’s failure to grapple with the realities of evil.

Solomon and Konzelman have a host of writing credits from previous faith-based films, including the first two God’s Not Dead movies, so expect some didactic moments, but this doesn’t mean the film feels forced. Nefarious provides yet another example of Christian filmmakers improving the quality of the faith-based genre.

On the whole, the script, the ­cinematography, and the acting are all well done—but the ending falls apart with a clichéd climax to the action and an injudicious epilogue. The movie earns its R rating for a disturbing scene and its discussion of some hot-button social topics. But there’s no bad language or sensual content.

While the device of conversation with a demon recalls The Screwtape Letters, there’s a key difference. Lewis pointed the finger at complacent Christians. This movie points the finger at secular American ­culture—especially the aspects that oppose human life—though it does contain a brief scene involving an ineffectual prison chaplain.

Nefarious succeeds as thought experiment and social commentary, but don’t go into it expecting robust theology. The movie takes some liberties in its explanation of creation, and its understanding of the relationship between spirits and humans is fanciful at best. I remained unconvinced by the film’s “the Devil made me do it” implication that Edward is innocent of his crimes because Nefarious is the true guilty party. The film also offers vapid opinions on God’s sovereignty and human freedom.

But the biggest theological problem is that in trying to build narrative tension in this spiritual battle between good and evil, Nefarious forgets to mention that God has already won through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Collin Garbarino

Collin is WORLD’s arts and culture editor. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University and resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.



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