Brilliant Acting Elevates Common Tropes That Possess ‘Nefarious’

Despite clichéd characters and worn dialogue, this horror film from God’s Not Dead producers proves surprisingly good.
on Apr 27, 2023 · No comments

Nefarious is an odd film to reach the top ten highest-grossing films nationwide during its first week of release.

An R-rated Christian horror film that spends most of its 1.5-hour runtime on an extended conversation between two characters in a prison chamber?

Yet one actor’s performance elevates an otherwise-worn script into a cinematic recommendation.

Sean Patrick Flanery gives an exceptional Nefarious performance

Nefarious focuses on a psychologist making one final assessment of a prisoner to see if an insanity defense can save him from a death sentence. The prisoner claims to be possessed by a demon. And viewers see very soon that his claim is accurate.

Sean Patrick Flanery, who portrays the demon-possessed man, can’t be praised enough for his performance. The man delivers one of the best villain performances I’ve seen, with a number of subtle nuances and mannerisms that make him completely believable as a demon-possessed man. Flanery effortlessly switches between the gripping voice of the demon and the pitiful pleas of the man trapped inside his own body. It’s hard to imagine another actor topping his rendition of a demon-possessed man. Flanery is that good.

Much less could be said about the atheist psychologist. While actor Jordan Belfi does fine with what he’s given, his dialogue feels more an armchair apologist’s view of atheists rather than real people you meet. And this bleeds into one of film’s largest weaknesses.

Nefarious’ truthful idea turns heavy-handed

It’s hard to miss the message of Nefarious. As the demon gleefully explains, Satan and his host have achieved astonishing success in destroying society through euthanasia, abortion, hedonism, and so on. Certainly, conservative viewers will find much praiseworthy about the film’s message.

The message delivery, however, is so heavy-handed that you may forget this is supposed to be a story. The screenwriters clearly endeavored to imitate aspects of Lewis’ Screwtape Letters.1 But the script lacks the piercing insight, subtlety, and cleverness Lewis possessed. As a result, the message feels more like propaganda than words worthy of deep study.

Discerning beauty in Nefarious

Several of the cinematic shots were quite evocative and appropriate. The film’s superb audio mix—particularly making the demon’s voice fill the theater—helped to elevate Flanery’s performance.

The script itself lacks much verbal beauty for the reasons already mentioned, but a few lines contained effective allusions and turns of phrase.

Flanery’s acted evil turns a mid movie good

By itself, the screenplay serves us a rehashed clichéd atheist and generic demon.

Flanery’s performance of the demon, however, makes the film remarkable. While I regularly rolled my eyes at the dialogue, I could almost forgive the heavy-handed message thanks to his chilling portrayal of a demon inhabiting human skin.

As a result, I must surprisingly recommend Nefarious. As long as viewers go into the film aware that its message-delivery doesn’t surpass the low bar of the God’s Not Dead films, they’ll find a lot about this cinematic depiction of a demon that’s appropriately memorable and worth the theatrical experience.

Best for: Teens and older film watchers, fans of light horror

Discern: Disturbing depiction of a demon-possessed man; realistic depiction of a man being executed on an electric chair; some frightening moments, though most of the film shows verbal conflict rather than physical battles.

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  1. See “Nefarious Filmmakers Take the Mask Off Evil in New Exorcism Film,” Joseph Pronechen in National Catholic Register, April 17, 2023.
Staff writer Josiah DeGraaf is a literature nerd who loves epic fantasy stories with imaginative worlds and authentic characters. He loves crafting fantastical stories about characters who face the same dilemmas we do when we try to do the right thing. You can download his short story collection for free to read about Medieval superheroes who need to decide how far they’re willing to go to save lives.

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