The movie Nefarious is a Christian movie billed as a horror film. I’m not sure it is either. To me, it is a tragedy, and not necessarily in the Shakespearean sense of the word.
To explain what I mean by that, I’ll have to tell you how the movie ends. So fair warning. Stop reading if you haven’t seen it. But really, it’s kind of predictable anyway.
The entire movie is basically one long conversation between a demon named Nefarious who is inhabiting the body of a man named Edward, and a psychologist tasked with the duty of determining whether the great state of Oklahoma could go ahead with the execution of Edward, who is on death row for a number of gruesome murders. If the psychologist decides Edward is insane, well, they can’t execute him because, as everyone knows, insane people definitely deserve to live more than not insane people, according to the law.
Well, the law aside, the movie turned out to be what I have come to expect from Christian movies: a not-so-subtle moral point of view masquerading as a story. It’s a sort of morality play or a Shakespearean tragedy, only without the ultimate redemption of the main character.
The action of the morality play centres on a hero, such as Mankind, whose inherent weaknesses are assaulted by such personified diabolic forces as the Seven Deadly Sins but who may choose redemption and enlist the aid of such figures as the Four Daughters of God (Mercy, Justice, Temperance, and Truth).https://www.britannica.com/art/morality-play-dramatic-genre
The movie ends with Edward being executed without any hope of redemption. The one priest who appears in the movie is a caricature of feckless ministers who have traded their authority in Christ for equality with the world. He says nothing to Edward about salvation. He says not so much as a Hail Mary, and doesn’t even consider a prayer of exorcism. When the end comes for poor Edward and he is marched to the electric chair, the priest isn’t there to provide Last Rites or a prayer for the damned, whom we have grown to care about as a victim of demonic possession.
The priest’s character was surely written that way as an indictment of spiritual leaders who have lost their vision of the power of Christ. But without a catharsis at the end, the movie cannot be considered truly Christian. Isn’t that the whole story of Christ? Redemption!? Hope!? The demon should be driven out by a devout Catholic exorcist at the end. And Edward should receive the double-cheeseburger and chocolate milk shake that he had wanted for his last meal. A true priest who takes his apostolic authority seriously should be there, and we should be left with a vision of Edward finally at peace, freed from the terror of the demon that has plagued him for so many years.
But he isn’t set free. He dies and goes to hell. And if that weren’t bad enough, in the end of the movie, the demon Nefarious confronts the psychologist through a new host body he has overtaken. Ugh. The devil wins. How is that Christian? Certainly satan wins a lot of times, but should a Christian film leave viewers feeling like God is unresponsive?
The other reason this is not much of a Christian film is that it allows the demon to talk too much. We should never give such voice to demons. In fact, as I listened to Nefarious go on and on about how bad God (the Enemy) was and how just the rebellion of the angels (now demons) was, I started to think maybe he was right. I actually started to feel sympathetic with the demon–partly because Sean Patrick Flanery did such a fine job playing that role. More on that later.
Even Jesus didn’t spend time talking to the devil when He was being tempted. Instead, Jesus quoted scripture. He didn’t debate the devil. He quoted scripture. Yet, in this movie, somehow it was a good idea to give the lion’s share of the dialog to the demon. And no scripture, except maybe Daniel 5:27.
In an interview on CBN, the author said the movie was sort of a combination of C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters and Silence of the Lambs. But in Lewis’s book, there was no specific soul being fully possessed. It was a demon speaking as a demon, not through a captive child of God. It was a fictitious imagining of how demons operate so that we can better protect ourselves. Nefarious is not that. The story runs the risk of building a sympathetic case for the demonic. And since God doesn’t send anyone to save his beloved child, Edward, the execution underscores the demon’s justification of its hatred of God.
I’m also concerned that the theology that the movie espouses may not be entirely accurate. There are a lot of details about the fall and the war in heaven that I don’t recall from the Bible. It would be worthwhile to question those extra-biblical pieces to see whether they are rooted in Catholic tradition or whether they are untested embellishments by the authors. In my opinion, such embellishments should be used with great caution in Christian entertainment; those who are new to the message may have a hard time distinguishing what part of the story is gospel and what part is fiction. That’s my biggest complaint of the Chosen series, but that’s another story.
Sean Patrick Flanery’s excellent performance might be cause for an academy award nomination if it had been delivered in a mainstream flick. But since this movie is an indictment of the mainstream (and I agree wholeheartedly with all of that), including Hollywood, there’s not a snowball’s chance in Nefarious’s home town of hell that Flanery will win any award he might deserve. The other actors in the movie do a good enough job to keep you listening, but not necessarily pinned to your seat.
It’s not a particularly scary movie, so it’s hard to call it a horror film. And without the redemption of Edward, in my humble opinion, it’s missing an important part of the Christian message.
One thought on “Review of the movie Nefarious”
I’ve not seen the movie, nor do I intend to see it. I know enough about how Satan is clearly and no longer secretly destroying souls in the pews and out of them. I don’t need to see it acted out. I must also add that yours is the first negative review I’ve seen. It is good to get another perspective. Thank you.