Beware of Nefarious: Religious Propaganda Masquerading as a Horror Movie

Image courtesy of Believe Entertainment

The Bible, angels, God, and all of theology are a part of the horror makeup. Many big-name horror films have used biblical texts or involved priests, and many have involved struggling characters questioning their faith. The power of Christ had to compel us, goddammit. As a raised Catholic turned atheist, my view of the Old Testament is mainly a collection of folktales, and there are a couple of compelling horror stories in there. Meanwhile, the New Testament is several versions of a biographical chronicle. I think the marketing around a full text was quite successful for the last two millennia, but many mistake the idea of God for the men who wrote these stories down two thousand years ago. I don’t write this to be challenging. I write this to give insight into my perspective on Nefarious, a religious movie disguised as a horror film to trick moviegoers into a ninety-five-minute evangelical session.  

Nefarious/Edward has his head down at a table while James approaches him from the other side of the room
Image courtesy of Believe Entertainment

Nefarious is, for the most part, a two-person single-location drama about a prisoner slated for execution and the psychiatric doctor there to determine his mental well-being. When Dr. James Martin (Jordan Belfi) first meets prisoner Edward Wayne Brady (Sean Patrick Flanery), he tells him all about the sinister scheme he hatched to kill his last doctor and lure James into this exact position. He then tells him that Edward is just the name of the host body he’s inhabiting and that he’s actually a demon named Nefarious. The hook to keep the audience around is that Nefarious tells James that he will have committed three murders before leaving the prison today.

Objectively, we’ve seen many two-handers grace our screens. Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon showed how psychosis can become infectious in William Friedkin’s Bug. While Richard Linklater’s Tape pitted reteamed Dead Poets Society stars Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard against each other in a torturous game of memories. Plus, even Ingmar Bergman pitted Death against a Knight in a rousing game of plague-era chess in The Seventh Seal. Putting a protagonist directly opposite an antagonist works, and in those cases, to huge success. However, the argument is a duel. Wits must match wits. And in the case of Belfi v. Flanery, the writers view both as being condemnable. They may even prefer the demonic logic they’ve written, essentially right-wing views on a slew of hot-button political topics. It’s even visually apparent how one-sided this conversation is by placing Belfi’s character in a bright blue blazer. If they threw an American flag pin on him, the symbolism would be as equally subtle. What disturbs me more is that writer-director duo Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon want their church of holy theatergoing crusaders to root on the side of the demon for ninety percent of the movie. That doesn’t sound very Christian, guys.

When the movie treads the complexities of topics like American literacy and racism, it adds a hypocritical twist. If they had ventured down this path, it could have led to some intriguing roads. But, as with religion, people hate when you poke holes in the insincerity of their beliefs. Please tell me, is the answer to fighting child labor abroad to be racist to a basketball player wearing the brand’s shoes? Nefarious seems to lean that way. Flanery’s demon is supposed to be nihilistic. Yet, there’s never any counteroffer in approaching these social issues better than the argument of Hell or God. Nefarious implies that James and his atheism are humanity’s greatest plight and somehow lower than a parasitic demon. He also says he’s going to speak more logically than anyone James has ever met, and he does so by tearing down all that James believes in. Maybe that’s the horror that all Christians truly fear, the atheists of the world twisting their beliefs.

guards hold Nefarious/Edward back
Image courtesy of Believe Entertainment

So, as the film hooks us with the idea there may be some bloodshed within the prison walls after the details of James’ first “murder” are revealed, the possibly painful decision to end his mother’s suffering by ending her life via assisted suicide, everyone knows where the film is going. I pegged “murder” two and three right then and there. By about halfway through, any thinking person has completely disconnected from the movie’s disingenuous display of holier-than-thou piety, especially when it begins arguing for prisoner executions over life being sacred. 

I’ll award Flanery some points for the character work he did to create the Edward and Nefarious characters. His ticks and mannerisms provide the psychological aspect of James’ argument some credence, as Ed Norton did for Richard Gere in Primal Fear. Flanery was the draw for me to review this movie, having been a fan of his work in The Dead Zone tv series, The Boondock Saints, and as Bobby Dagen in Saw: The Final Chapter. Still, lately, Flanery has become an online troll ranting about “B.D.M. (Bad Decision Making)” and ganging up on “fatties.” I suppose that alone disqualifies me from a friendship with Flanery. Overlooking all that, even I have limits when decent actors pivot into faith-based flicks. Belfi, on the other hand, isn’t bad. But his character limits him from doing any honest acting. Essentially Belfi is to Flanery in Nefarious what an empty chair was to Clint Eastwood at the 2012 Republican National Convention —an empty character without a voice. 

Don’t get me started on set design. The scenes outside the prison are quick and look pretty good overall. Maybe a producer worked at a jail or something and could allow filmmakers access to certain areas. However, the main room where the film takes place looks like a Nickelodeon idea of what the inside of a prison looks like, or like a ’50s monster movie without the torch sconces. The sea foam color scheme is even more atrocious and doesn’t blend well with the costuming color palette, and the lighting is an absolute mess. 

James crouches next to the Warden, surrounded by guards on the prison walls surrounding the prison yard
Image courtesy of Believe Entertainment

Nefarious’ thematic viewpoint of an atheist being condescended to by a demon is childish and trite. Bergman, it is not. Anyone expecting to be philosophically challenged can save their dime, while curious horror fans will likely walk out and get a refund anyway. In the words of Sean Patrick Flanery, seeing this movie is B.D.M. 

I had seen the trailer on tv and knew the movie was hitting select theaters this weekend, not knowing much else. When the title card popped up in the opening credits that said Believe Entertainment presents, I knew I was in trouble. Not knowing who the filmmakers were at the time (always do your research, kids!), I decided to hear what Konzelman and Solomon had to preach. Hell, I’ve sat through a sermon or two. Bring it on. I hadn’t realized this was the team behind the anti-Planned Parenthood propaganda film Unplanned, a movie that makes me think that devout Christians have zero empathy and compassion for anyone who can’t get behind their worldviews. And, you know, that Jesus guy they think they know so well who slummed it with sex workers and lepers to understand and comfort them as people instead of preaching at them about right and wrong? If he ever were to show up again, I don’t think he’d even recognize the religion he’s at the center of.  

I warned audiences about 2022’s Shut In, and I’m warning them now. Conservatives are trying to carve out a nook in the horror market, probably because they’re cheap to produce and easy to capitalize on. Nefarious even uses a cameo by Glenn f*cking Beck to go the extra mile. It makes me feel gross for just having watched it. But this martyrdom of my time is my sacrifice to you, the horror community.

James appears on Glenn Beck's talk show
Image courtesy of Believe Entertainment

Horror has been a genre about the outsider since Mary Shelley, inclusive since Night of the Living Dead, making females the sole survivors since Texas Chain Saw Massacre, started a Queer AF revolution with Hellraiser, and keeps building a world of togetherness through our shared macabre nightmare on a planet that pushes us to act or feel a certain way. Nefarious is precisely as its title describes, a malicious attempt to connect with an audience it sees as damned, missing the concept of the genre entirely. Nefarious doesn’t care about anyone else’s perspective. It only cares about furthering its own doctrinal campaign. You can keep your horsegirl movies but keep this trash out of our goddamn genre. 

Nefarious is currently in select theaters.


  1. You don’t even seem to know the basic tenets of Christianity nor who Jesus is to decry it. You seem to have a personal aversion to all things religion so is this even a fair review of that movie or just your personal hatred of something different than your ideology?! You seem like a hypocrite. But don’t fret, Jesus came for you too. He came for the haughty and the proud. The thing about Jesus is that when He was “slumming” it with prostitutes, He commanded them to go and sin no more; to repent of their ways because His way is truth. I hope you find His truth.

    • Daniel, judge not lest ye be judged, right? You have no idea who I am, or what my life has been, but you would take the time to throw stones at a stranger because, for some reason, something poised against your beliefs somehow makes you feel angry. I get it. That’s my view of Nefarious from this side of the balcony.
      Furthermore, I don’t hate Christianity. I have a lot of Catholic friends and family. What I dislike is sanctimony. Let Jesus come, I’m sure we’ll be best buds, and he can tell me the autobiographical version.

  2. 1. The fact you claim to have gone from Catholic to aethist is laughable.
    2. Nefarious doesnt attempt to demonize anything. Other than the abortion stance, it actually brings up some good talking points. The very biased/slanted opinion piece of a review you left is that of a scorned ex. Im not sure what happened to you while you practiced Catholicism but it has obviously left a sour taste.
    3. As far as you closing line goes, it isnt you who gets to decide what is in or out of the horror genre. There’s a simple choice, either watch it or don’t. Realistically if more movies were made like that the horror genre would be better off.

    • 1. Haha, i guess.
      2. “Doesn’t demonize anything” immediately admits it demonizes abortion. Leaves out the demonization of atheism and the demonization of assisted suicide, and the hypocrisy that every life is sacred then begs for a prisoner to be executed. I think you nailed it.

      If the movie is biased/slanted to a particular group, then shouldn’t the group its biased against (namely athesists or alternative religions, because Catholicism isn’t the only one) speak out against it? That is perspective, something i criticized Nefarious for not having.

      You got me! Jesus left me and i’m super sad about it. Why?!

      3. (But it feels like maybe 5 now) i will concede i may have been a little emboldened in my last line, however, this isn’t to say Catholic films don’t belong in the genre, that defeats the purpose of my opening line. Let me be clear, “Propaganda doesn’t belong in my genre.” Watch what you want, but horror is about possibilities beyond three dimensions and Nefarious never has more than two.

    • Hey John,
      So, I actually think horror is framed perfectly to incorporate Christianity/religion, and in that I’m making the case that angel v demon, light v dark, and demon v man have been done very well multiple times over. However, with all good stories you need opposition. The narrative in Nefariois is always a one-sided argument. There are several times within the movie that an atheist POV/alternative perspective could drive powerful conversations, but the writing never reaches that depth. James, whether he believes Nefarious is a demon or not, seldom pushes back or offers any antagonizing dialogue, accepting much of what the demon tells him. After the definition lines of “murder” are established, the point becomes clear that the writers/directors aren’t interested in provoking conversations, but instead cater to the beliefs of those coming to see the film. I never saw any Left Behind films, mostly because the premise always seemed to insist a Langoliers knock-off. That doesn’t discount any point you’re making about the framework, I just never saw it and cannot speak to it. On the other hand, I have seen The Remaining, which is a horror film based on the Book of Revelation with some pretty excellent effects and decent moral conversation. It isn’t a perfect film, maybe more of a middle of the road picture, but i do think it’s a better story overall because it adapts to modern cultural conversation. Nefarious’ attempts to demonize atheism, other religions, or spiritual beliefs, provides an atmosphere of superiority for the like-minded audience watching it. That is the essence of propaganda.

  3. I thought it was a good film. Well worth my money. It’s better than the unoriginal trash that tries to virtue signal.

Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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