Monday, May 1, 2023

Nefarious: A Review (Review #1710)



It is not often that one connects "horror" with "Christian film", at least intentionally. Nefarious attempts to bring the horror genre to believers, and while not without its slips, on the whole it works well.

Dr. James Martin (Jordan Belfi) has been brought in to evaluate Edward Wayne Brady (Sean Patrick Flanery). Brady is on death row and is set to be executed via the electric chair, but there are doubts as to whether he is sane enough to be executed. Edward claims to be a demon, but is he faking this to avoid death?

No, for Edward is surprisingly eager for the execution to take place. It is because, according to him, he is not Edward, but a demon whose name translates to "Nefarious". The atheist Martin is at first unimpressed, but slowly during the course of the day, Nefarious predicts that Martin will be responsible for three deaths before the day is done. He also knows much more about Martin than appears possible.

Could there be true demonic evil at work? As the day goes by, the truth will not set everyone free.

Nefarious is almost a two-man play with Belfi and Flanery battling it out in this unholy war. More often than not, they are the only ones on screen, allowing the viewer to concentrate on their individual performances and co-writers/directors Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon's work. Out of the two, Flanery is clearly the dominant figure. He has to play two characters: "Nefarious", the dominant, evil demon as well as "Edward", the being he possesses. This requires a shift in Flanery's mannerisms and voice, and he handles those well.

While it is justified to criticize Flanery's performance as the character Nefarious, (Flanery may be over-the-top at times), one should remember he is playing a demon. As such, a demon can be a bit over-the-top. In the few moments Flanery is Edward, we see a different side to this figure: frightened, regretful to have let the demon in, desperate for redemption. 

Konzelman and Solomon mark the change in personality both through their directing of Flanery and by moving the camera from one side to the other, reflecting a shift from Nefarious to Edward.

Belfi, for his part, pales in comparison. There was not as much engagement with Martin as there was with the more scene-stealing Flanery. To be fair though, Martin was meant to be more dry and dispassionate, so it might not be fair to be too harsh given the part. 

The film also has some sharp dialogue. At one point, the demon taunts Martin by saying, "He (God) made you in His image, but we remade you in ours". To be fair though, at times the dialogue can also be gilding the lily a bit. Nefarious also mocks black basketball players who make $30 million dollars while crying racism as they wear sneakers made by slave labor. It may not be subtle, but it is effective.

Nefarious does not rely on jump scares or graphic violence (except perhaps for Edward's end). Instead, it relies of mood, which the film does well. In keeping things within the small area of the prison, we get a more claustrophobic atmosphere. This is especially true when we get to the "second murder", which Martin is powerless to stop.

I imagine that there will be viewers who would object to the circumstances involving "the second murder". I cannot reveal more without revealing major plot points in the film. I will say that Nefarious, as a more faith-centered film, will have a particular point of view. As such, it comes from that perspective. One should judge things by what is intended, not strictly on how one feels about them. 

What really sinks Nefarious is the extended cameo by Glenn Beck as himself. Ostensibly there as the interviewer discussing Dr. Martin's book about his experience, it just looks bizarre. For those who know who Beck is, one is genuinely puzzled as to what he in particular is doing in the middle of all this. For those who do not know, it may just be some random person playing a role.

Even that could perhaps be overlooked if not for the length of this scene. At times one wonders if Beck is fully aware of both the film and his role in it, such as it is. It seems so random, so odd, to see Glenn Beck pop out in this and becomes distracting. It ultimately would have been better if an actual actor had been cast.

The film also suggests something of a sequel. It is not a direct notice of one, but it leaves the door open. I do not know if that was a good idea.

On the whole, I think Nefarious works well. It runs a brisk 97 minutes, enough time to tell its story. Nefarious has a good, strong performance by Sean Patrick Flanery (though the name "Wayne Brady" may have been a mistake as I kept thinking about the cheerful comedian); it also has an effective score that is not overused and a sparse manner that helps it. 


1 comment:

  1. I would give the film an A rating, Glenn Beck has very little screen time, seeming 90 seconds or so. Sounds like the reviewer has a bias against him.


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