(WARNING: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD)
Last night we went to see Nefarious on its opening night. The viewing room in the cinema was crowded. Even with high expectations elevated by the favorable reviews, the film didn’t disappoint me, living up to the claims.
A High Caliber Movie
The script is so well written that I, for whom English is a second language, can recognize the cadence and tempo in the dialogues, a prominent feature in a classic play. Sean Patrick Flanery did an outstanding job, portraying the convicted serial killer. His acting measures up to the caliber the script sets, deserving an Oscar nomination. The entire time my mind was fully engaged, riveted by the movie. It’s the best Christian movie I’ve seen besides The Passion of Christ. It is a giant step forward. We can say that the Christian movie industry is no longer the shabbily dressed Cinderella, but the one heading to the ball with crystal shoes on her feet.
It’s a R-rated film and may not be suitable for younger audiences. It does have a scene which is a bit disturbing. But whatever feeling you get from it is the message the movie tries to convey on this subject, either for or against it.
There’s Still Room for Improvement
In China we have a saying which describes an effort of nitpicking – looking for a bone in an egg. So here, I’m simply trying to be hypercritical, looking for a bone in an egg.
One of the main characters, the psychiatrist, is not a Christian who at the end abandons his atheistic worldview because of his encounter with the killer representing the dark world. I assume this movie aims at non-believers. I think if the story didn’t present his change during Glenn Beck’s show, but rather left it for the audience to wrestle with, it would invite the audience, especially atheists, to participate in the story and draw their own conclusion. I think this scene looks a bit preachy and preachy movies have little appeal to non-believers because it deprives them of their opportunity to make up their own minds.
Further, a movie communicates differently from a book or a stage play. The most potent feature of a movie is its ability to tell a truth visually, even without words. For instance, the magnificent cinematography in the movie, 1917, powerfully conveys our longing for peace and beauty through visual effects. Without clearly stating its anti-war message, those stunningly beautiful visuals in the midst of war-torn zone help achieve its objective, making the audience loath the devastating consequences of a war when they walk out of the theatre.
In addition, this ability is not constrained by time and space. For instance, a movie can place geographically and temporally different scenes together to drive home a point. As long as cinematic art is concerned, a story can be told visually in million different ways. This unique characteristic, in my opinion, is more important than words because a movie aspires to impress the viewers through a visual experience. Hollywood has in some way turned most of us into visual leaners.
Nefarious feels more like a classic stage play with most of its plot taking place in the same scene, a large room in the prison. It delivers the message mainly through compact and super dialogues and first-class acting, important features in a stage play. But a movie can do so much more.
Since various art forms, a movie, a book, or a play, affect our brains differently, I think in order to touch the viewer with the goal to change their viewpoint, we have to take into consideration not only the message but also the vehicle by which the message is carried out. To certain extent, Nefarious, with long dialogues and limited scenes, has not taken full advantage of the cinematic art. Nonetheless, it is still an outstanding movie, a masterpiece on its own merits.
A Divine Message for Us
More importantly, I believe there is a divine purpose for the film. We can sense this through the interference and vicious attacks from the dark world on the production and on the author, Steve Deace himself.
A few days ago I read a comment on the movie on social media, “I’d rather talk about Jesus.” This kind of statement frustrates me greatly. I think it is a cheap and irresponsible response with a calculated purpose to preemptively shut off discussion. Though we should not be obsessed with the demonic, the biblical witness is that we must recognize and address it accordingly.
Sun Tzu in The Art of War says, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.” I think for various reasons, western Christians, and American Christians in particular, lack the desire to know our enemy. This might be precisely the reason for the fast encroachment the Enemy has made on our territory.
Perhaps, God intends to use Nefarious to wake up the Christian community in light of all the increasing emergence of evil around us. Perhaps, what we considered a cultural issue or a political issue, in fact, has a determinatively spiritual force behind it. Unless the church recognizes it, addresses it, and takes a stand against it, we will not turn a defeat into a victory. That’s the message Nefarious has for us.
Chenyuan Snider was raised in Communist China and majored in Chinese language and literature in college. After immigrating to the U.S. and having studied at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and Duke Divinity School, she became a professor and taught at Christian colleges and seminary. She sensed God was leading her to use her unique voice to provide a warning about various kinds of Marxist influences in our society. She lives in northern California with her husband and has two grown children.