Exclusive: Demonic Possession Thriller ‘Nefarious’ Aims to Be an Adult Version of ‘The Screwtape Letters’

Nefarious Lead photo 2

The writer-director duo Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon electrified the faith-based film box office in 2014 with God’s Not Dead — which turned a two million dollar budget film into a stunning $65 million global mega-hit — and the 2019 pro-life epic Unplanned. Now the filmmakers have set their creative sights on the horror genre with the new psychological thriller Nefarious.

Starring Sean Patrick Flanery (perhaps best known for his work as Connor MacManus in the cult hit The Boondock Saints), Nefarious is billed as a prequel to conservative personality Steve Deace’s book A Nefarious Plot and follows psychiatrist Dr. James Martin (Jordan Belfi, Entourage, Grey’s Anatomy) as he attempts to determine a condemned murderer’s mental sanity and fitness for execution after he claims to be inhabited by a demon.


Sitting down with Breitbart News for an exclusive interview, co-directors Konzelman and Solomon discussed the pressing themes that Nefarious explores as well as the challenges they overcame to bring it to fruition. As to why they ventured into a genre so strikingly different from God’s Not Dead and Unplanned, the filmmakers said they felt God calling them to tell a story about the presence of evil in our modern world.

“The world is definitely ensconced in evil,” Solomon told Breitbart News. “Doing this movie, we wanted to reveal that. There is evil, there is good, there is the devil, and there is God.”

“What we perceive as a cultural battle is actually a spiritual battle, and the film is actually about pulling the veil away from that fact,” Konzelman added.

Describing Nefarious as an “adult or mature version” of C.S. Lewis’ seminal work The Screwtape Letters, the filmmakers said they wanted to stage a “battle of good and evil” over two people talking across a table.

Jordan Belfi portrays Dr. James Martin who is tasked with declaring the mental state of a condemned serial killer (Sean Patrick Flanery) who claims to be the demon Nefarious.

“Years ago, we started a career writing a movie of the week for NBC. We were told that their ideal formula is ‘two nuns in a tunnel.’ One location, limited cast, no changes of wardrobe. I think we came as close to that ideal as we practically could,” Konzelman said.

“But we wanted to bring out the battle between good and evil,” Solomon added. “Now, realistically … a demon would rip a person apart unless basically, it was a scenario in which they could actually converse where one is in an inhabited person who’s in jail. And the demon has brought the psychiatrist because he wants to use him. A demon is not just going to meet with somebody unless there’s some evil purpose behind it. That was the perfect setup.”

“We felt we had to put him in a position where he wasn’t in physical control,” Konzelman added. “So, shackled to a table and only able to use his intellect and his tongue really to engage was kind of the ideal way of pinning him down.”

In the film, the demon often speaks of deep theological concepts about the devil’s rejection of God’s grace in favor of personal autonomy. Konzelman and Solomon wanted to convey the Gospel through an unexpected source.

“We also wanted the demon to speak the Gospel from a demon’s point of view,” said Solomon. “He knows that the Gospel is true. He tells the nonbeliever that it’s true, but he does it with malice. If a priest or a pastor said anything that was in this movie, no one would listen.”

When asked what sets Nefarious apart from other Hollywood films that deal with demonic possession and exorcism, Solomon had just one word: “Truth.”

“Up until now, no one has seen what it’s really like,” Solomon said. “Father Carlos Martins, he was at our premiere, and basically said this is the greatest movie on possession, on exorcism that’s ever been made. And he included The Exorcist in that … because it shows the truth.”

“We didn’t want spectacle. Hollywood would have people walking up the ceiling, vomiting green puke, and doing all these crazy things and flying around the room. That’s not what this is about,” he added. “We wanted people to see evil in its true form and that’s what we strove for and I think that’s what we got.”

The filmmakers talked about the extensive research they did on exorcisms before sitting down to write the script.

“We were all over the place. I mean, we’ve been kind of studying this stuff off and on for years, and then we dove into it a little bit more deeply. Father Chad Ripperger, who’s an exorcist, has some excellent talks on this,” said Konzelman.

“Father Carlos Martins, who’s got the Exorcist File as a podcast show, has been unbelievably helpful,” added Solomon.

Jordan Belfi as Dr. James Martin in “Nefarious.”

Every film has its challenges, but according to the filmmakers, Nefarious had some particularly difficult hurdles that they believe may have been the result of spiritual warfare.

“Our office building had the roof literally ripped off less than a month ago in the rains. A building in Burbank and the whole roof. And naturally, it happened at two or three o’clock in the morning on a weekend,” said Konzelman. “So, the rains destroyed two stories worth of interior.”

“Our on-set exorcist, during shooting, had an emergency and almost died. His appendix burst during removal, and the surgeon told him if you got here an hour later, you’d have died,” he added.

In one particularly striking instance, the filmmakers described how an Oklahoma windstorm hit the set while filming an intense scene.

“It’s about the devil, and all of a sudden the building gets hit with a windstorm,” Solomon recalled.

“The highest sustained winds in the history of Oklahoma,” Konzelman added.

“The building girders are bending, and it sounds like we’re in hell, so much so that the secular crew looks up and gets freaked out. We stop talking about the devil, the wind stops, no noise,” Solomon continued. “We start taking the scene again, talking about the devil. The noise.”

On the casting front, Nefarious does not disappoint, with Sean Patrick Flanery giving a stirring performance as the condemned convict struggling against the malevolent entity inside him. When it came to casting Flanery in the titular role, Solomon and Konzelman said they felt “the Spirit” pushing their decision.

“We both think Sean is the best actor in Hollywood,” Solomon said. “If somebody sees the film, they’re going to say that guy deserves an Academy Award. As a matter of fact, we’re putting him in for the Academy Award on that. So, basically, it was just a no brainer.”

Sean Patrick Flanery in the film’s title role as a condemned serial killer who claims to be a demon.

The filmmakers said they hope audiences come away from the film with a better understanding about good and evil in the modern world.

“We want people to know that there is a God and there is a devil. There is good and there is evil. There is light and there is darkness,” said Solomon. “The bottom line is we want people to realize that your soul is under assault, whether you agree or not. And whether you see it or not, and we want people to be sobered up and say, Is this real?”

“If you believe that demons exist, and I believe that most people who watch this film are at least going to seriously contemplate whether they do, if you come to a belief that demons exist, fallen angels, you will probably come to an awareness that angels who didn’t fall exist,” concluded Konzelman. “From that, you will realize that both of them had to be created by a Superior Being. That Superior Being we consider God, and then you probably further take it for the final step.”

Nefarious opens nationwide in theaters today.


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