‘Nefarious’: Filmmakers Take the Mask Off Evil in New Exorcism Film
‘Rather than getting bogged down — like every other movie — in diabolical phenomena and power, this one brings the viewer into the demonic mind …’
Opening on 1,200 screens this past weekend, the film Nefarious is a horror thriller like none other, spotlighting the epic battle between evil and human souls.
Co-writers-directors Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman’s supernatural thriller was inspired by the book A Nefarious Plot by New York Times best-selling author Steve Deace. A criminal awaiting execution gets a last-minute reprieve when a court order sends a psychiatrist to examine if he is trying to avoid the death penalty with his behavior. The doctor finds he is a demon who wants to be executed, leading to an edge-of-the-seat battle of good against evil. Both writers, known for Unplanned, consider this their best work up to date and spoke at length with Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen about their film. In addition, the Register asked exorcist Father Carlos Martins his impressions of the film.
What prompted you to make this film?
Konzelman: In this film, the audience finds out what the demons have known all along — that we’re not really in a cultural battle; we’re in a spiritual battle. And the battle takes place one soul at a time.
Solomon: The film lets everyone know there’s good and evil. This demon is telling the story, the truth, on not only creation and God, but, from their point of view, how they’re going to destroy the world and how they’re doing it. And the thing is, it’s all based on fact.
Konzelman: It’s grounded in a theological sense, but it’s also entertainment. And don’t be afraid of the poster — [it] looks pretty intimidating. The poster is a Trojan horse designed to lure the mainstream horror audience into the film, nonbelievers.
Solomon: Basically, they look at the poster and say, “We want to go to that movie” because they’re drawn to the occult, which is exactly why we did the poster. In reality, anyone who has seen the movie can tell you there’s no sex or any bad language.
It’s a supernatural thriller. What we need to realize is that [people] today are doing Ouija boards, tarot cards, Reiki, yoga, getting pagan tattoos. All these are ways that people are getting infested. If you play with the devil, he will come. … All the world [is] surrounded by the occult, especially on TV and in the movie theaters. So it’s a perfect time for this to show the wickedness and the evil of the devil.
This movie is saying, “Don’t play with the devil. If you dance with the devil, you’re going to lose.” We point that out, but we do it in a very smart, cinematic way — we tell a story. Jesus told parables for a reason because stories are the most powerful way to convey information to people.
Have you experienced unusual problems making the movie?
Solomon: Literally, it has been a fight for us. The whole crew caught COVID. We had to start the movie all over. We had eight car accidents in a matter of 11 or 12 days. No one was hurt, but all the cars were totaled. So you see the devil tries to kill people and the Lord protects them. At our office building in Burbank, California, the whole roof was ripped off during a rainstorm. That doesn’t happen in rainstorms.
Konzelman: Our on-set priest, who was trained in exorcisms, during shooting had an emergency appendectomy. The surgeon told him how the appendix actually burst during removal and told him if he showed up an hour later, “You probably wouldn’t be here.”
You really expose Satan and his tactics in the movie.
We drag him from the darkness and bring him into the light. Because we show that he’s real. He’s got a plan. He’s initiating that plan. If we go back to the Bible, what does it say? There will come a time when good is considered bad, and bad is considered good, when women will be as men, when all these things that are happening in our world today, that the saints have prophesied about, that the Bible has spoken about. You can see the devil’s machinations all across the world. What we’ve done and why he’s angry and why he’s attacking everyone is that we brought him into the light. We’ve revealed him. People seeing this movie are saying, “I have to reconsider my life.”
Konzelman: The devil hopes you don’t see the movie.
Solomon: Catholics have to go see the movie because we need to get a refresher course on the devil. We need to realize that the devil is real. If you really truly believe in the devil, you will change your life because you will suddenly realize: “Somebody is after my soul. If I lose this battle, where do I go?” And the problem with most people is they’re distracted. And that’s the way the devil wants it.
There’s no doubt this film speaks from the Catholic perspective, a Catholic film.
Konzelman: Deeply Catholic. Here’s the surprise for us, though. We have shown this to a number of pastors and a number of theologians all across the Christian spectrum. And they agree with everything that’s in there. That came almost as a shock to us. They’re all dealing with the same problem. They all recognize this as the face of the adversary that they’re up against. And no one’s voiced any questions or problems with the theology.
Solomon: I think the Lord anointed the movie. The Bible says, when you judge a man, look at the fruit of his tree. I would ask people — by the way, Chuck and I are devout Catholics; we love the Lord; we love the Blessed Virgin; we love our saints. We have a priest on set with us every movie. If you look at the fruit of our tree, you’ll see [our films] God’s Not Dead, Unplanned. We’ve taken a position consistently to do the Lord’s work.
What signs of hope do you also see the movie bringing about?
Solomon: I think that the Lord is calling out that he is separating the wheat and the chaff. He’s still crying out to the chaff. He still wants to save them.
Konzelman: This is the movie for your family member who has fallen away from the faith, or your friend who has never been a believer. You can take them to this film, and under the guise of entertainment, they’re going to be confronted with the greater questions. Be prepared to have a conversation afterwards, because they’re going to be asking the important questions.
The devil is the accuser. Ironically, in this film, he’s accusing us, quite rightly, as a society, of hiding the truth from ourselves. The devil has been so emboldened that now he’s dropping the mask. And for reasons that make sense within the story, the demon tells the truth from his point of view. And his point of view is that he absolutely believes in God. He absolutely believes every word of Scripture; he just hates it. He wishes it wasn’t true.
Why do you think the film will reach the hearts of viewers with this approach?
Solomon: Now, sadly, if a pastor or a priest was preaching to the audience in a movie, the audience would not listen to them. These are the sad times we live in. We use that demon to preach the Gospel even though he hates it, but it validates God in his doing so.
Konzelman: It’s like C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters; he’s preaching the Gospel from the other side of the mirror.
How is it different from other exorcism movies?
When you see a Hollywood horror movie, it’s designed to tear down God. It’s blasphemous. It’s heretical. It’s evil. It basically tears down the Church on every level. We do the opposite: We’re glorifying God, glorifying everything that is good and right and righteous in this movie, but we’re doing it in a very smart way. It’s a totally different kind of movie. No one is walking up the side of the walls … and doing foul, wretched things.
Solomon: Everything about this movie is Catholic. It’s an exorcism film, No. 1.
We use [Anne] Catherine Emmerich’s visions. We talk about creation; we talk about good and evil. We talk about how the devil was thrown out.
Konzelman: A lot of our audiences of post-Christian age in the United States had never heard this before.
Solomon: We talk about the views and values of the Church: no euthanasia; no abortion; no murder. It’s a totally Catholic story. And as we’re very excited about it, because we’ve wanted to make Catholic movies for a long, long time. Our goal is to bring out as many Catholic movies as possible.
Solomon: We’re very excited to see what the Lord does with it, especially since he’s the one who told us to do it. We feel that he wrote it; he shot it. Look, we’re just two guys from New Jersey. We’re just trying to be obedient.
Chuck and I will leave you with this for your readers, your viewers … we’re in the same fight. We’re fighting the good fight. Stay firm; stay faithful. Everyone, fight the good fight. In the end, we win.
Father Martins, from your experience as an exorcist recognized by the Vatican, please share your thoughts about Nefarious.
Father Martins: I can say — without hesitation — that it is the best movie portraying demonic possession ever produced. Rather than getting bogged down — like every other movie — in diabolical phenomena and power (levitation, extraordinary strength, and other “same-old” signs), this one brings the viewer into the demonic mind. While the movie trend has focused on displaying demonic rage, Nefarious deftly exhibits the devil’s insatiable craving and formidable intelligence. Far less concerned with ostentation than demonstrating the devil’s thought and intellectual character, the movie accurately depicts how he smothers his victim’s hope.
Astute, careful and intelligent thinking went into its script. Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman — the film’s writers, directors and producers — have encapsulated the conundrum into which a demon always presses his victim: “Whether you choose option A or B, you’re damned either way, so cooperate on the Enemy’s terms and choose one. Of course, you are always free to end your life.” Therein is another conundrum. …
The movie is clean and is not a “horror” movie. It has no blasphemies, sex scenes or even four-letter words. However, it is anything but boring. As an exorcist, I can affirm it is true to life and a must-see for anyone who desires to understand the Enemy. I found it gripping. I showed it at the seminary where I live, and the seminarians and priests raved about it for days.