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Home > Nefarious (2023), A Review

Nefarious (2023), A Review

Sean Patrick Flanery

A Steady Ride to a Horrific End

By Elisabeth McGowan

Nefarious is a steady heartbeat that eventually leads to a spike. It drives its controversial moral message about humanity through a minimalist approach and is carried by Sean Patrick Flanery and Jordan Belfi’s performances. 

The 2023 psychological horror introduces the audience to Dr. James Martin (Belfi), a self-described atheist who is assigned to prisoner Edward (Flanery) to determine his level of sanity prior to his scheduled execution for the murders he committed. Instead of immediately meeting Edward, however, James meets the apparent demon, Nefarious, who claims to be possessing Edward in prison. James must conclude whether the prisoner is competent to withstand death row or if he should be transferred to a psychiatric facility for treatment. The clock is ticking for the doctor as both Nefarious and Edward confuse his decision-making. 

A film like this requires dedicated acting. Without that, Nefarious would be weak. Seventy percent of the movie is a simple dialogue between Nefarious (and Edward) and James. An audience who truly appreciates the beauty of cinema and performance would love this; a general audience needs a kick in the gut to stay with the story. Fortunately, Nefarious delivers that gut punch in the end. 

The Art of Minimalism 

After James meets Edward/Nefarious, the two engage in a long conversation that lasts for nearly half of the film. The dialogue starts slow, with James meeting Nefarious, whom he believes is Edward with dissociative identity disorder. The two leading actors portray a solid level of buoyancy throughout their meeting. Without this organic back-and-forth, viewers wouldn’t be engaged in the topics they discuss. 

For starters, Nefarious talks a big game throughout his time on screen, but is he really a demon? Viewers find themselves questioning this for most of the film, especially after seeing the drastic personality change from him to Edward. Could he just be a regular human struggling with another identity, or is he really who he says he is? Are there just two guys here named Edward and Nefarious? Like how Edward Norton nailed portraying Aaron and Roy in Primal Fear

The personality switch isn’t accomplished through costume changes or grand actions, such as how they’re beautifully done through James McCavoy’s characters in Split. Flanery was given a difficult task to do this on his own while sitting in the same chair, facing the same scene partner. It’s here where Flanery’s skills shine, as the camera accomplishes that iconic behind-the-shoulder move to signal to the audience that a change is in progress. 

It’s easy to feel Edward’s pain as he literally looks like his head will explode in one moment. Demonic possession is an internal war between the human host and the force inhabiting them. The more the host pushes against the demon, the more difficult it is for them to resurface. Flanery’s outward and inward pain is so tangible because it looks like a severe migraine worsening in his cranium. Yet, he still keeps us questioning the authenticity of his dual character. 

While there are a few moments that could have been redirected, such as the moment a priest walks in and Nefarious reacts, Flanery and Belfi keep the stakes high, which is crucial for a horror film’s reception.

Sean Patrick Flanery

Detailed Visuals and Dialogue

Without bloody or ghostly CGI effects, a simple movie like Nefarious must execute its terror through words. When Flanery’s self-identified demon brutally describes what he believes is the process of abortion, Dr. Martin is visibly torn and horrified. Nefarious proves that words really do matter, and he carries their weight in everything he says. But the real fear is when he venomously paints the audience — and James — a picture of what an electric chair electrocution looks and feels like.  

We’re still unsure whether Nefarious/Edward will go through death row. However, the apparent demon tells the doctor that he specifically chose the chair rather than the lethal injection. He then describes the long and gruesome death one can endure from that method, and it’s truly bone-chilling. 

Nefarious doesn’t have a lot to depict until the very end, which is a challenge in gripping its viewers. But directors and screenwriters Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon used this to emphasize the weight that words can carry. If an actor can enunciate and feel the meaning of each sinister word they say, then the audience’s imagination is already in motion, and Flanery understood the assignment. 

Biblical and Political Divide 

Nefarious is self-aware of its controversial viewpoints to an extent. On one hand, the devilish character brings up a few valid opinions when he’s bickering with James about the flaws of humanity. After the doctor emphasizes how many positive changes people have invented and learned in modern times, Nefarious strikes back by mentioning the ingrained societal problems, from technological overconsumption to racism. 

On the other hand, the 2023 flick features one questionable moment, which may anger some viewers. After Nefarious unravels how much he knows about James, the topic of abortion comes up, to which James notes, “It’s her body, she can do what she wants.” While that is true, the authenticity of that statement falters once the audience delves deeper into this storyline. Needless to say, some women may disagree with that plot point. However, this is just one portion of the extensive biblical path that Nefarious takes us on. 

As with many paranormal-themed movies and TV shows, theology becomes a huge strong point. Shows like Supernatural and Sleepy Hollow, of course, did an impeccable job reinterpreting the Bible, whereas Nefarious embodies certain points in the religion. Nefarious hints at a Christ figure — “the carpenter” — but we’re unsure who in this story is going to personify that archetype. Could it be James, as Nefarious instructs him to work on the “dark gospel,” or could it be Edward, who may die painfully all from something that wasn’t his fault?  

It’s clear that Konzelman and Solomon did their theological homework for their film. After all, they wanted their split character to say that he’s the most knowledgeable when it comes to theology. So, references to figures such as the famous child-sacrificing demon Moloch, for example, are clear indications that this was a carefully crafted screenplay. 

Nefarious doesn’t use the good-old element of surprise in the end like many high-budget horror films do; it actually tells its audience what to ultimately expect without them knowing that the answers were right in front of them. We don’t realize that we’re reading the film’s so-called “gospel” until we get to the haunting end with James, which consists of two separate moments. The first scene is a jolt because we’ve just watched something so disturbing that it forces us into silence. The second moment occurs at the very end, which leaves viewers feeling uneasy after they walk out of the theater or turn off their TV. Horror can happen during daylight, which is purely terrifying. 

Overall, Nefarious is a skillfully written and performed film. It accomplishes what every psychological horror sets out to do: scare people. But it does so in a slower way as if to savor the audience’s eventual fright. 

Nefarious premieres in select theaters on April 14.

Sean Patrick Flanery

Nefarious (2023) Official Believe Entertainment

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Elisabeth joined Dead Talk News in 2022 and loves movies and TV! After working for various sites, including Screen Rant and Showbiz Cheat Sheet, Elisabeth joined DTN to critique and review various movies, from horror flicks to Disney live-actions.