Two men face each other in a room: one, a man of science, and the other, a man who may or may not be possessed. The new thriller Nefarious, in theaters now, throws open the debate between the two.
Throughout the history of movies, filmmakers from the unknown to the legendary have attempted one of film’s trickiest sub-genre’s (or conceits), the Chamber Piece.
To put it plainly, can you make an entire movie about two people in a room?
The real question comes down to the following: Do the film filmmakers have something interesting enough to say, and a compelling enough way to say it, to draw a viewer in for an entire film set primarily in one room?
With Nefarious, the answer is yes, and cinema now has one more success to add to this unique genre.
What Is Nefarious About?
How did the writers and directors, Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon (UnPlanned, God’s Not Dead), pull this off?
First, you need to start with an engaging premise, and the movie presents a truly intriguing one.
A state government calls in an accomplished psychiatrist, Dr. James Martin (Jordan Belfi, Entourage) to go to the federal penitentiary to evaluate a condemned prisoner, Edward Wayne Grady, (Sean Patrick Flanery, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Boondock Saints, The Boys) on the day of the man’s execution to determine if the convict is actually insane.
Why is the criminal’s sanity in question? Because he claims to be a demon, or more specifically possessed by a demon, named Nefarious.
Why does the man’s sanity matter? Because if he is sane, he will be put to death; however, if he’s crazy, then he will be institutionalized instead and spared from capital punishment.
As a product of modern education and a practicing man of medicine, the psychiatrist doesn’t believe in God, much less angels and demons.
He meets with the convict under the practical assumption that the criminal is either lying to escape execution, or has, in fact, lost his grip on reality.
The felon somehow has information about the doctor that he couldn’t possibly know. Also, the “demon” claims that before the doctor leaves the prison, this “man of science” will have committed three murders of his own.
The gauntlet is thrown; the conflict begins.
Debating the Big Questions
With life and death hanging in the balance, the premise immediately catches the audience’s attention.
However, catching a viewer’s attention is one thing. Keeping them engaged is the real Herculean task, and it hinges on what the film has to say. In this matter, Nefarious doesn’t disappoint.
As the physician literally faces off with the felon, the verbal sparing immediately begins. Over the course of the next 90 minutes, the film dives into the most complex and intense issues we face as individuals and as a culture as a whole.
The film wades into questions of right and wrong, faith against reason, euthanasia and abortion, sin, freedom, and even the question of the existence of good and evil.
But, the whole time, Nefarious also presents a clever, thought-provoking debate about these core issues, all while keeping within the context of looking at the life of a man who has killed people in horrible ways, but is now being condemned a horrible death.
It also holds up an unforgiving mirror to the psychiatrist, whom most of modern society would see as a good and moral man. However, the convict forces the doctor to look at his own life choices, especially as he decides whether to be complicit in the prisoner’s gruesome execution.
The Strong and Weak Points of Nefarious
What gives power to this one-two punch of a premise backed by an engaging theme is the excellent dialogue and the top-tier acting by both the leads.
Flanery gives a truly award-worthy performance as the killer who just might be the puppet of a fallen angel.
To be clear, the film does have its flaws. There are several scenes and elements of the movie where you wish the filmmakers would show you more or get you out of that claustrophobic prison and let you see some of the people and events that the doctor and the prisoner talk about in their verbal sparring.
Also, the dénouement takes some steam out of this intense thriller. That being the case, the drama of the movie, the impact of the storytelling, and the timely nature of the topics it addresses, are well worth the viewers’ time and attention.
The film Nefarious is almost supernaturally clever about taking an intriguing but difficult idea and an even more challenging genre, and turning these elements into a quality movie that will certainly have you talking about it after the credits roll.
For more added fun, look online for articles (like this one) about all the unbelievable obstacles and issues the filmmakers had to overcome to get the movie made.
The film is currently playing in theaters around the country. Catching it on the big-screen makes the film more intense and won’t disappoint.
Official site, with ticket link and showtimes, here.
Should Families See Nefarious?
The film is rated R for Disturbing Violent Content. Most of the conflict is verbal, but there are depictions of suicide, self-harm and assault. It's definitely intense, and that sustained intensity might be unsettling to even some adults.
So, no, this is emphatically not a family film.
Image: (L-R) Jordan Belfi, Sean Patrick Flanery, in Nefarious/Believe Entertainment
Tony Sands is a USC film-school graduate and a Senior Producer for Family Theater Productions.