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'Nefarious' gets demons right

Unsplash/Marek Piwnicki
Unsplash/Marek Piwnicki

“What happened next literally took our breath away.”

So writes M. Scott Peck, famous New York psychiatrist and author of the wildly popular book The Road Less Traveled.  Peck had been asked to evaluate a woman thought to have a variety of mental illnesses, whose treatment he describes as initially proceeding down the typical path of other patients.

But during a session where he called into question her intelligence and then exclaimed she was faking her psychosis, “Jersey” changed instantly and manifested an icy, evil facial derisiveness that chilled him to the bone — something Peck describes as the most “haughty” look he’s ever seen.

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What came out of the woman’s mouth next rocked Peck’s worldview.  

“I did not believe there was such a thing as possession,” writes Peck in his book Glimpses of the Devil, where he records the above case of Jersey along with several other confrontations with possessed people in his psychiatric practice. But his encounter with the demon who decided to finally reveal itself in full to Peck during his session with Jersey changed his opinion.

While the demon in Peck’s first case he chronicles in his book hid for some time, the one in the movie Nefarious takes the opposite approach. “I am a demon” it right-from-the-start tells the atheist psychiatrist, Dr. James Martin, sent to evaluate the inmate that the demon possesses who is about to be executed on death row.

What follows is a dialogue between the demon and the psychiatrist, played by Jordan Belfi, that takes up the vast majority of the movie. It’s a conversation similar to the precision-styled dialogue with which the demon in Peck’s case spoke and is sprinkled with some of the best biblically-based demonology I’ve heard in any film whose theme involves the demonic.

“I am the most rational being you will ever meet”

My oldest daughter and I enjoy going to scary movies together. When she picked "Nefarious" for our weekend film outing, neither of us knew we were walking into a movie that would be so spot-on where demons are concerned.

About a third of the way through the film, I turned to her and said, “The writers must have gotten a Christian professor schooled in demonology to consult on this because it’s so accurate theologically.” I had completely overlooked the fact that the directors and writers of the film are Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, the same team that produced God’s Not Dead, so it’s no surprise they did their homework.

The plot revolves around Belfi’s character assessing a murderer, who is about to be executed that evening at the prison, in order to determine if he is sane and therefore legally allowed to die for his crimes. The demon tells Belfi that its goal with him is two-fold: to have the person it possesses die in the electric chair (“because we have no need of him anymore”) and have Belfi evangelize the demon’s Gospel to the rest of the world.

Sean Patrick Flanery plays the part of the demon named Nefarious (along with “Edward,” the demon’s host) and does an outstanding job in the role. He transitions from the demon to Edward with perfect fluidity and aces it when it comes to delivering a hostile combination of contempt, arrogance, and maliciousness as the demon when conversing with and mastering Belfi’s psychiatrist.  

Flanery’s character is on death row for 11 murders, which he claims Nefarious has committed: “Six convicted, one suspected, four that they don’t have the capacity to figure out.” When the skeptical Belfi questions Edward’s reason and rationality, the demon responds, “I am the most rational being you will ever meet” — a good reminder to us that the enemy adheres to a logical teleology in how he operates.

Another powerful scene involves the demon speaking to the psychiatrist about an abortion his girlfriend is about to undergo. The demon’s narrative includes Old Testament references to infants being offered up to false gods and is sickeningly insightful: “The Creator creates, and we destroy. And we do all of it through you. We always have. Did you forget your history, Jimmy? Even in ancient times, the arch-demon Molech was celebrated by tossing infants into flaming bonfires.”

The film, through the mouth of Nefarious, also provides good cultural commentary on the escalations of crime and malevolence seen in almost every news article today:

“Now there’s evil everywhere, and no one even cares … we achieved our goal. Slowly. With your movies, your TV, and your media. We desensitized you. Redirected your worldview. To the point that you can’t recognize evil when it’s right in front of your face. More to the point, James, you can’t even feel it when you’re doing it. As for winners and losers, whoa, whoa, whoa! That gets decided at the time of death. The exact numbers are a closely guarded secret, but there are more of you ending up in my master’s house than with the Enemy. A lot more, Jimmy.”

Is the movie scary? It depends on how you define ‘scary.’ There are no real jump scares, nor CGI or anything similar to tantalize you.

But if you understand the demonic, that’s really not needed. There’s a reason that nearly every time in Scripture when the natural encounters the supernatural, the former can rarely stay upright. I can testify to that with the two confrontations I’ve had with demons. Their presence alone makes your skin crawl.

Moreover, watching the demon terrorize, humiliate, and deprive the Edward character of everything in his life and then be ultimately responsible for his death and assignment to eternal punishment is the very definition of ‘horror.’  

"Nefarious"is definitely worth a watch and beats the vast majority of demon-themed films where accuracy in the devil’s thinking is concerned. In a Hollywood way, it shows itself to be a good case study of Satan’s strategy with humankind.

That strategy can be difficult to see sometimes amidst the superficial layer of the culture wars that play out every day. M. Scott Peck noted in his time with his first demonically-possessed patient how her evil facial manifestations that he and others with him saw multiple times were never picked up by the video recorders capturing her and their sessions.   

Speaking about how evil is sometimes difficult to see and detect, Peck quotes Malachi Martin who wrote, “evil moves cunningly along the lines of contemporary fads and interests, and within the usual bounds of experiences of ordinary men and women.” The movie "Nefarious" does a good job of reminding us of just how cunning the devil’s evil can be and how dull we can be to it even when it’s staring us in the face. 

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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