Rob Reviews "Nefarious"
Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon’s latest film, Nefarious, is one of those that I think is going to fly under a lot of people’s radars. Given that these are the writer/directors of the God’s Not Dead series and other films of its ilk, there will be assumptions as to what this film is and is not, and that can be a fair assumption on some levels. However, this film actually sets itself apart from others in what can now be called a genre in its presentation and execution (pun intended).
Nefarious starts with a bang and doesn’t let up as Dr. James Martin (Jordan Belfi) is assigned to evaluate the mental state of a convicted murderer named Edward (Sean Patrick Flannery) on the day he is scheduled to die for his crimes. Claiming to be a demon named Nefarious, the following one hundred minutes is a psychological game of cat and mouse that changes Dr. Martin on multiple fronts both professionally and personally.
I don’t want to go too much deeper into the film than that because there are layers to this plot that could venture into spoiler territory, and I do my best to avoid those for the Empire as much as I possibly can. About ninety-five percent of this film takes place in the room with just Belfi and Flannery’s characters talking through what starts as a normal evaluation and turns into much more, so there are two things that are important here, and I will address them individually.
One: the script.
Again, given the track record of the writer/directors in a film that is set as a prequel to the two books with “Nefarious” in the title by Steve Deace, it would be easy to assume this is a “religious” film. While there are faith-based elements in it, this is not the typical kind of film it will inevitably be compared to. Put aside any thoughts of agenda or politics here: this is a script that is strong and works in each and every line that is written. Given the expectations of the character given to Martin as he enters the room, there is no doubt that this rollercoaster is about to leave the station and not slow down. With VERY little traditional action but a little bit of purposely placed cringeworthy moments, it is important that not only the story itself be front and center but that it delivers all of the emotion and intensity that would prompt those seeing Nefarious to want to read the books it leads into. And it full-on does so with back-and-forth that feels conversational and flows nicely.
Two: the performances.
There are only two to worry about here (although Tom Ohmer does a fine job as the warden that prepares Martin for what lies in the prison conference room he is approaching), and both Belfi and Flannery are absolutely amazing. Belfi dials it back a bit, realizing that his character’s job is to keep the narrative moving while trying to have a fair and equitable opinion of the man chained to the table sitting across from him. As secrets are revealed and questions are posed (both answered and unanswered), Belfi’s range of emotions show how Martin’s doubt of everything he has always believed while still challenging the man in front of him as often as he can is believable and grounded.
Flannery is in top-notch form on a level playing the man who may or may not be what he seems in a way that I have not seen in a LONG time. He shows the exact level of intensity required for each and every set of dialog that he delivers and does so in a manner and cadence that adds diesel fuel to the fire of Nefarious that kept me fully engaged the entire time. As wordy as his parts are (and they need to be for this character to be believable), he does so in a way that made me wonder how many of them were done in a single take because of the brilliance of the performance here. Having interviewed him recently, this is a guy that puts everything he has into every part he plays because he understands the assignment and sticks the landing flawlessly.
Nefarious could have easily fallen into many traps that films like it does by wanting to be compared to other films like Silence of the Lambs, Primal Fear, or even Fallen (remember that one?) or being considered “too church-y” in its message, but I assure you that this is not the case with this film. As a man of faith myself, I didn’t find this to spend more time than necessary dealing with Christianity specifically more than using its teachings and lore to fuel the fire of the story between its two characters to help move it along. Make no mistake here, and I really cannot say this enough, THIS IS NOT THAT KIND OF FILM. I could easily see this being translated into a stage production of some form at some point. I am intrigued to read the novels that this film is intended to usher in, but I am on the fence as to whether or not I would like to seem them translated for the silver screen as well; I will reserve judgement there.