I recall some minor advertising for it online, and I think it even enjoyed a small feature on my local theater chain’s website, though that might be wrong. But like many small, independent features, it only appeared on a single screen with some wildly inconsistent and/or inconvenient screening times. When every other screen is trying to cram the latest Jurassic Park or Fast And Furious down society’s throat, where can we turn to in order to find a purely human drama? Despite having more options for one’s entertainment choices available than ever, sometimes it still seems like good stories can’t find a place, and that’s a damn, dirty shame.
So, yes, we missed seeing this one in theaters, but on Saturday night the wifey found it finally making the rounds (affordably, too) on Amazon Prime. So we took it in and were glad to have done so: it’s a spectacular performance piece – in many ways like a great stage play – featuring two winning performances, a premise worth thinking about, and a script that knew when was enough. That’s a rare formula to achieve, and I think all involved deserve a bit of praise … though they’ll likely never get it.
Well, Nefarious touches on themes that – for lack of a better word – Hollywood finds taboo. (Can you imagine that? Can you imagine Hollywood – with all of its scandals – finding anything taboo?) Though things like good and evil have a place in most productions, such players like God, Jesus, the Devil, and angels? It would seem those topics are mostly off-limits; and that’s probably why this one never found the wide release it deserved.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“On the day of his scheduled execution, a convicted serial killer gets a psychiatric evaluation during which he claims he is a demon, and further claims that before their time is over, the psychiatrist will commit three murders of his own.”
A number of years back, a few smilers on the ever-reliable Facebook took me to task regarding a question I raised about demonic possession. Flatly, they dubbed me a bit of a social stooge for ‘believing’ in such a phenomenon that stemmed from the Dark Ages, and they flatly kept hurling insults at me for even asking a question.
Now – for the record – I was in no way, shape, or form suggesting that I believed in it. Merely, demonic possession was front-and-center the topic of a film I had just watched; and I had a question regarding something that this particular script had said was a long-established tenet of the phenomenon. Having never heard of this rule, I went online into a forum that both stated they were new member friendly and inclusive about the topic, only to be rebuked in such a fantastic fashion by the group’s most vociferous participants. Mind you, none of them even addressed the point of my query … but I guess that’s the breaks in the wide, wide interchange that is the Information Superhighway.
From what I’ve read, Nefarious created a bit of controversy during its original theatrical run, and – having finally watched it – I can understand why.
Hollywood and many of its intellectual elite have long suggested that religion and/or religious ideas are the true source of evil in our world because applying a moral barometer requires making judgments on the behaviors of so many. When our cultural betters have produced so many who have engaged in what’s been openly suggested as – ahem – bad behaviors (i.e. Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Joss Whedon, James Franco, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., etc.), then it’s only natural that – in order to defend their own – they need to dismiss any and all explorations of morality, especially those with strong links to Biblical ideals. Nefarious’ central theme discusses the long-standing war for the souls of men (and women) – the God and the Devil might never let it end, you know – and many of its exchanges delve into the kinds of subjects regular folks – like you and me, to a degree – have already made up our mind about. Hollywood resents us for it and paints us a simpletons who’ll believe in anything. Nothing could be further from the truth, but we’ll leave them to their wicked ways.
However, Nefarious never really damns anyone in its exploration of what good and evil mean. Instead, the script serves up one meaningful exchange after another performed wonderfully by the leads, and I think it’s all intended to give viewers something to mull over. Rather than pronounce guilt, the dialogue is structured in such a way to both define these polar opposites – Brady (as Nefarious) believes in the beyond whilst atheist Martin chooses science as his foundation – never cheaply impugning the other though implying the occasional insult. This is, clearly, a performance piece; and – on that front – its players excel.
In particular, Flanery does a wonderful job. (FYI: the actor has been on my radar all the way back to his days as no less than Indiana Jones aboard The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.) Torn between two identities, he manages to bring some peculiarity to each of them: his take on Brady shows us a timid, broken character who can’t quite grasp all of the particulars that’s led him to such a dire predicament while Nefarious grimaces, twitches, and frowns at nearly every opportunity. This demon – or demonic entity, depending upon one’s interpretation – clearly looks at mankind with contempt, and he’s obviously grown more than a bit weary with having to occupy a ‘meat suit’ not befitting his stature. In a sane world, Flanery’s work here would draw a bit of acclaim, but such taboo subject matter will likely relegate this one to cult status at best. (And, frankly, even ‘cult status’ would be deserved, at this point.)
Of course, the downside to masking a film with such obvious Biblical implications in a Horror feature such as Nefarious might kinda/sorta lead many consumers to pass it up, deeming it to be little more than a theatrical exercise using popular ‘salt of the Earth’ themes to dupe audiences when nothing could be further from the truth. There’s a real exercise taking place here – there’s a cogent battle depicted for the soul of man – and this one deserves being seen. Though it might use a few of the usual tropes of the genre to make score points, Konzelman and Solomon have delivered the goods in a way that leaves them open for discussion without casting stones at anyone who might “believe” otherwise.
Out here where regular folks exist, Evil is real. Giving it such a human face might not be the bold experiment Hollywood approved, but that makes this one no less compelling.
Nefarious (2023) was produced by Believe Entertainment. The film is presently available via streaming on such platforms as Prime Video, Vudu, and Apple TV (per a Google.com search). As for the technical specifications? The film looks and sounds exceptional from start-to-finish. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? As I viewed this one via streaming, there were no special features to consider.
Nefarious (2023) will not be to everyone’s liking, and I find that very sad. Essentially, this is a performance piece that delves into the greater nature of Good versus Evil (yes, Biblical ideas included); and I think it might be the kind of film that spurs constructive discussion in lieu of lesser films that reach only for easy solutions. Set aside your comfort factor and take a chance on its 100 minutes. Leave your preconceived judgments at the door. Watch what two performers can do with a thoughtful rumination. It likely won’t make a believer out of you, but it might have you asking the right questions.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I watched Nefarious (2023) all of my own accord (via a purchase on Amazon Prime), so this review is beholden to no one … well, other than myself, of course.