When was the last time you saw a good talky mystery movie? Scratch that, when’s the last time you’ve seen a good occult talky mystery movie? I would have to go all the way back to the masterpiece that is The Man from Earth. The movie we’re going to be talking about today is not that good but it still warrants a viewing, especially if you’re a fan of these sorts of things. And I urge you to give it a chance even if you don’t like this style. Nefarious is a movie about a discussion between a psychiatrist and a convicted serial killer facing execution in mere hours.
The trick is that the serial killer claims that he’s possessed by a demon who made him do everything he did. It’s based on Steve Deace’s 2016 novel A Nefarious Plot, hence the good script. Although I have to mention the 2010 movie Shelter AKA 6 Souls as it features a somewhat similar story. This is a relatively modest production that was counting on that juicy dialogue and good performances. Don’t get me wrong, the movie looks pretty good and the direction was excellent. Especially when you consider the static nature of the story. But it’s the performances that really brought Nefarious home. To be more precise, Sean Patrick Flanery’s performance as the titular character, Nefarious.
You might remember him as one of the brothers from the nineties classic The Boondock Saints. On the other side, we have slick Jordan Belfi giving us his best Scott Adkins impression. His performance wasn’t as good as Flanery’s but it was serviceable. Since Nefarious has been advertised as a “religious movie”, I have to step in and say something. While it might hit you a bit harder if you’re a believer, it works just fine if you’re an atheist. Hell, I’m an atheist and I found it strangely intriguing. The rapid-fire delivery of a reasonable and quite compelling argumentation from our serial killer can overwhelm you at times.
Part of it is the willingness on our part to suspend belief and entertain these notions and explanations. After all, that’s the core principle of the scientific method. However, don’t think you’ll come out the other as a man of faith. I certainly didn’t and I also couldn’t help remembering that George Carlin bit if there is a god may he strike me dead. If I remember correctly, and I do, he proceeds with may he strike this audience dead which was simply hilarious.
Moving on, Nefarious does have a strong eighties vibe. And not just because the story is kind of similar to Wes Craven’s Shocker. It dances gently between supernatural mystery and psychological thriller, keeping you guessing right up until the end. Sure, some parts are a bit heavy-handed but as a whole I found the movie to be a refreshing addition to the possession subgenre. To quote the great American poet Glenn Danzig: Possession, posssseesssioon, posssessssiiiion!
Finally, if you’re looking for similar movies, I recommend you check out Roman Polanski’s highly subversive masterpiece A Pure Formality. While we’re on the subject of serial killer movies featuring strong religious motives, Frailty is a must. And if you’re up for something a bit more philosophical The Sunset Limited starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson is a great choice.
Directors: Chuck Konzelman, Cary Solomon
Writers: Chuck Konzelman, Cary Solomon
Cast: Sean Patrick Flanery, Jordan Belfi, Tom Ohmer, Glenn Beck, Grifon Aldren
Fun Facts: Vatican-approved priest and exorcist Rev. Gary Thomas worked on this movie as well as 2011 The Rite starring Anthony Hopkins. Gary says that Nefarious offers a much better and more realistic representation of possession.