As a fan of Steve Deace, I have long been curious as to whether a man who thinks that Avengers Endgame and The Last Jedi are great movies could ever make a good movie. And the answer is yes. The movie Nefarious is based on a paragraph in the preface of the book A Nefarious Plot. The movie puts the perspective of a demon into a narrative that is compelling, gritty, and theologically informative. However, on the whole, this movie teeters on the line from being good to great, until the last ten minutes which determined that the movie would only be good. Sean Patrick Flannery’s villainous performance is Oscar worthy, and it alone is a compelling reason to watch this movie.
Without spoilers, the plot is as follows: following the untimely death of a colleague, Dr. James Martin (Jordan Belfi) is brought in at last minute to perform a psychiatric evaluation of prisoner, Edward Wayne Brady (Sean Patrick Flannery), so that he can promptly be executed at 11pm that very day. In the evaluation, Edward claims to be a demon named Nefarious who has chosen James to be his messenger. Dr. James gets into several sparring battles with escalating tension, as the avowed atheist attempts to rationalize how a serial killer in solitary confinement learned intimate details about his life. Time is short as the doctor must decide whether or not to sign off on the death of the demonically possessed man.
This story immediately grabs the viewer’s attention with the opening sequence and does not let go. Sean Patrick Flannery seamlessly transitions from playing the resentful Nefarious to the tortured Edward. It isn’t until the midway point where the movie takes a turn that addresses abortion and euthanasia. Nefarious has numerous monologues in this movie broken up by mild body horror sequences. At times the middle stretch of the movie felt a little clunky, but it was never boring.
Sean Patrick Flannery’s performance as Nefarious is the best movie villain in years, comparable to both Joaquim Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck and Heath Ledger’s Joker, as the Joker is the main inspiration for the demon personality. We see on several occasions Nefarious laughs at the pain he inflicts on Edward, from choosing the most painful method of execution to denying the trivial pleasures we take for granted. Nefarious is evil because he can be, and because he wants to be. This form of villainy has been lost as Hollywood has taken to nuancing most villains out of their villainy.
Jordan Belfi does an excellent job portraying an atheist professional who is unequipped to wrestle with the demonic. Tom Ohmer also does an excellent job playing the warden who can’t wait to be rid of Nefarious. You know it’s not your cheesy Christian movie when there are multiple scenes centered around smoking cigarettes, which is a positive in my book.
However, the film Nefarious has trademarks of the makers of God’s Not Dead which is this film’s most pressing flaw, and these trademarks merge with the flaw of the psycho thriller genre, a genre that doesn’t always know how to end their story. Many psycho-thrillers, like Netflix’s Spiderhead, try to make a happy ending in a story that is better off a tragedy, and it doesn’t always work, or they add an extra plot at the end that undermines the movie, like The Batman did. Nefarious has a final scene featuring Glenn Beck that is completely reminiscent of Willie Robertson being in God’s Not Dead, as Glenn Beck is in the movie as a marketing courtesy. There was a way to have made this movie redemptive without being self-indulgent, but Nefarious clearly crosses this line for its final scene. It also undermines the Christian nature of this film to have a Mormon help interpret the events.
Nefarious is an exploration of how Satan views himself and humanity. It is the view of A Nefarious Plot that Satan resents mankind for both being made in God’s image and offered redemption for their rebellion, when Satan and his followers were not. Therefore, they set out to have an argument with God about the unworthiness of man to have been made in God’s image and subsequently offered redemption. Nefarious does an excellent job putting this theology into narrative and Sean Patrick Flannery gives an Oscar level performance as a demoniac.
I give this movie a solid 8/10 that should have been a 9/10 if not for the last scene.