When “Nefarious” directors Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman first conceived of bringing the spiritual thriller to the big screen, they knew they would face unseen opposition. But the duo didn’t know just how much, in their words, “the devil didn’t want this movie to be made.”
“We had a friend tell us a long time ago, ‘For those people that don't believe in the devil, declare war against him and see what happens,’” Solomon said. “Well, we declared war against the devil for the Lord, and I will say that honestly, from the first moment we wrote the script, weird, crazy things began to happen.”
Inspired by the book A Nefarious Plot by New York Times bestselling author Steve Deace, the filmmakers, who are also behind the pro-life film “Unplanned,” described “Nefarious” as a cross between C.S. Lewis’ novel The Screwtape Letters and the film “Silence of the Lambs.”
The horror-thriller film follows a convicted serial killer (Sean Patrick Flannery) who, on the day of his scheduled execution, must be certified as mentally competent by a court-ordered psychiatrist, Dr. James Martin (Jordan Belfi). But Martin is surprised to discover that the killer is possessed by a demon, Nefarious, who tells him that before the day is over, the psychiatrist will have committed three murders of his own.
“As a storm gathers outside the prison, Nefarious chips away at Dr. Martin’s resolve and conviction, confounding and unsettling him so much that he begins to doubt his own sanity and fears for his life,” reads the film description. “As the two face off, they deliver crackling energy and a series of disturbing preternatural revelations propelling them to an inexorable, astounding conclusion.”
And from petty inconveniences, like a squirrel breaking into their Airbnb and destroying a Nativity set to larger issues, like the roof blowing off their office and strange ailments afflicting the cast and crew during filming, the creators said the spiritual warfare taking place throughout the making of “Nefarious” was undeniable.
“The first day Steve Deace visited the set, he got very sick with a cyst under his arm. Suddenly, it disappears,” Konzelman said. “Literally, the morning before the theatrical premiere, it comes back. By nightfall, he’s in the ER, mumbling and muttering incoherently. He was near death and had a live infection, MRSA in his bloodstream — it was everywhere, and he had to undergo surgery. He almost died.”
In another instance, a Catholic priest trained in exorcisms and spiritual battles hired to be on set with the crew had to undergo an emergency appendectomy during shooting: “His appendix burst during filming and he almost died,” the filmmakers recalled. “The surgeon told him, ‘If you got here an hour later you would not be here.’”
And in the first 11 days of shooting, eight crew members got in severe car accidents — “and we didn’t have a big crew,” Solomon said — yet not a single person was injured.
“And these stories are just the tip of the iceberg,” the filmmaker said. “The adversary does what he does, but the Lord does what He does. In other words, ‘You want to stop the movie, but I'm going to protect the people doing the movie and make sure they keep going on.’”
The duo reflected on some of the strange goings-on that continued to take place in theaters once the film opened: “It was a constant struggle in the theaters,” Solomon said. “The fire alarm goes off in multiple theaters across the nation, computers would malfunction so people couldn’t buy tickets, it would show a theater was sold out, but it wasn’t.”
Most unnervingly, there were numerous reports of “people growling and vomiting in the theater and not remembering any of it when they woke up,” Kozelman added.
“The devil literally didn't want us to do it from page one," he said. "But we pushed through; the Lord said, ‘Keep pushing.’ The reason we did it, honestly, was the Holy Spirit basically called us to do it. We prayed on it — we prayed on everything — and just kept on moving forward. … When you go through an experience like this, your faith in God goes up, and so does your understanding that the devil is real.”
Despite ongoing spiritual opposition, “Nefarious” has seen astounding success: The film has received a 97% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and grossed a whopping $1.3 million in its opening weekend despite being shown in only 933 theaters and opening against two other horror films.
“The movie is surviving and growing,” Konzelman said. “It's anointed. It’s God bringing the truth like a lion; unchain the lion, let him out of the cage and the truth — you don't need to defend it. It will defend itself.”
“I don't know how the Spirit works, but I know it's working on this film,” he added.
The film received an R rating, although it does not feature any explicit language or sexual content. Solomon said the rating was “political,” adding: “They gave us an ‘R’ rating for the breaking of a finger. Disney cartoons have more stuff than that. But they knew Christians wouldn’t go see the movie if it had an ‘R’ rating.”
Even the film’s poster — which depicts a demonic face — and its listing as a “horror-thriller film” were something of a “Trojan horse” in the hope of attracting nonbelievers and “those who are in trouble with the devil.”
“It was a gutsy call on our part,” the filmmakers said.
Already, Solomon and Konzelman have heard numerous stories of people being saved, forgiving abusers or healing from trauma after watching “Nefarious” — stories that have brought them to tears. The pair said they believe the film is resonating with audiences due to the “darkness” increasingly permeating society.
“I defy anyone to walk out their front door and say that they don't feel that something is wrong,” Solomon said. “I think a lot of people are seeing the reflection of evil, and they're realizing, ‘This makes perfect sense. God loves me, the devil hates me. The hater is going to try and hurt me. God is going to try and help me,’ and so they shift to God’s side. And I think it is powerful.”
“I think it's a sign of our times that literally, we had to use a demon to preach the Gospel. If we used a priest in that role, or a pastor in that role, no one would be interested. But because the world has fallen into a dark place, the demon is preaching the Gospel. … We don’t use the demon in a malicious way against God, his anger and his malice validate the fact that [God is real].”
Looking ahead, the filmmakers said they want to use their talents to continue telling stories that highlight God’s goodness and expose the reality of the devil, even if it means going through spiritual warfare.
“Everyone says, ‘I'm willing to suffer,’ until it’s really rough and it’s terrible,” Konzelman reflected. “And you think, what am I doing? Why am I going through this? But then you eventually settle down and you think, ‘I'm going through this because this is the battle. It's a battle between good and evil, and the Lord has called us.”
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org