Nefarious comes from Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, the men who wrote God’s Not Dead and wrote/directed Unplanned. If that makes you suspect it will incorporate culture war stuff, you are correct. Abortion, diversity efforts, and same-sex marriage all get a critical inclusion. It’s also stated that Hollywood intentionally infuses movies and television shows with immoral messages in order to corrupt people’s minds. Just in case you somehow fail to grasp the story’s political intent, it ends with an extended Glenn Beck cameo.
By the way, this is a horror movie. I don’t say that because it’s terrible – although it certainly is. No, it really is an R-rated horror movie. Whereas many Christian-themed films depict non-believers being forced to confront their disbelief after witnessing or experiencing a miracle, this one goes a different direction, forcing a non-believer to confront his disbelief after crossing paths with what may be a literal demon. Do I even need to spell out what happens? Actually, I do, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Jordan Belfi plays Dr. James Martin, a psychiatrist brought in to determine the sanity, or lack thereof, of a killer named Edward (Sean Patrick Flanery) scheduled to face execution that night. The task seems simple, except that Edward claims to really be a demon named Nefarious who is simply using a human body to carry out his evil plan of tormenting the thing God loves most, humans. Furthermore, he tells Dr. Martin that he – the psychiatrist – will commit three murders before he leaves the prison. Did I mention that the film incorporates abortion?
The vast majority of Nefarious is the two men sitting at a table talking. You might expect that they’d discuss factors related to Edward’s mental health. No, they talk about religion and the "Dark Gospel." Dr. Martin is a proud atheist, so Nefarious has to convince him that demons do indeed exist. This leads to a seemingly endless back-and-forth of clunky dialogue between doctor and patient. Listening to 90 minutes of philosophizing on those subjects could be engrossing in a My Dinner with Andre kind of way, except that the dialogue is repetitive, and the movie’s overall moral philosophy is weird for a reason that, again, we’ll get to momentarily.
Weak performances don’t help. Belfi is beyond bland as Dr. Martin, as full of blank stares as he is free of charisma. Flanery attempts a Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde kind of approach, playing Edward as an anxious guy with a stutter and Nefarious as a Charlie Sheen soundalike. Watching him pinball from one to the other feels like an acting exercise rather than a genuine transition from human to demon. Since their conversation keeps treading the same ground, Belfi and Flanery are similarly forced to hit a single note repeatedly.
Nefarious builds to a howler of a climax that delivers exactly what you’d anticipate from the makers of God’s Not Dead, just in an even more preposterous way. The big scene would be perfect for an Airplane!-style spoof of evangelical-themed films. Following that is the Glenn Beck cameo, where a good six minutes are spent meticulously spelling out the meaning of everything we’ve just seen, as though we haven’t just seen it. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is occasionally criticized for a denouement that needlessly explains Norman Bates’s psychopathy. That classic has nothing on this film.
By far, the most off-putting element of Nefarious is its message. I’m going to get spoilery here, so reader beware. The story’s point is that Dr. Martin comes to believe demons are real and therefore God must be real, as well. Konzelman and Solomon are clear from the beginning that the psychiatrist is not a person to be admired. After all, he’s an atheist who made his girlfriend get an abortion! In essence, that makes him the villain. And if Dr. Martin is the villain, that makes Nefarious the hero. Yes, he’s a demon. He’s also a demon who gets the big bad atheist to consider Christianity. Could a faith-based film send a more bizarre message?
Nefarious comes out at the worst possible time. 2023 has been strong for faith-based fare, with Jesus Revolution, Southern Gospel, and His Only Son all opening in first three months of the year. Any of them will provide viewers with far more inspiration and entertainment than this sorry movie can muster.
out of four
Nefarious is rated R for some disturbing content. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.