Are demons real? Is demonic possession possible? Are the actions of this serial killer the actions of someone experiencing a dissociative disorder (split personality), or can it really be a case of demonic possession as he claims?
These are the questions presented to the protagonist Dr James Martin, a brilliant psychiatrist in the 2023 movie “Nefarious.” Dr Martin, both a valedictorian and salutatorian in his school career, has been tasked with determining whether a serial killer is sane and therefore can be cleared to suffer his court decreed penalty: death; or whether he is insane and must therefore be remanded in custody until it can be determined he is sane. The movie follows Dr Martin’s investigation, and in so doing presents the above questions and many other Biblical and moral questions to the audience in a manner reminiscent of one of CS Lewis’ masterpieces, The Screwtape Letters.
Since reviews are supposed to give you an opinion on whether to see the film or not, let’s get to it. John Zmirak at The Stream writes Nefarious is the Best Movie I’ve Seen In Years.” Obviously I enjoyed the movie enough to point out his review but I would modify the one line header thus: Nefarious is the most observant movie regarding spiritual truths that I’ve seen in years.
Nefarious goes beyond telling the spiritual truths that we’re used to hearing about – the various gospel accounts that we’re accustomed to: accounts of Jesus, the apostles, the incarnation, the resurrection, the rapture, the end times, etc. Instead Nefarious focuses on truths – spiritual truths – that neither Christians nor unbelievers care to think about or acknowledge to be true: The work of satan in the world and how much he has done to destroy and mar God’s perfect creation.
For unbelievers who are honest with themselves, Nefarious points out how complicit, perhaps even active, people are in allowing evil to flourish. To believers in the Christian faith, it additionally points out the blinders we Christians keep firmly in place to keep us from seeing, acknowledging and acting on spiritual truths that are taught in the bible but are unpleasant, so we’d rather not think about or deal with them.
The denial of unbelievers of these spiritual matters is understandable because they are, after all, unbelievers. But what excuse do we, as believers, as those professing to follow the Lord Jesus, have for discarding and treating with unbelief some of the main points of Jesus’ teaching and ministry: the reality of demons and evil, the reality of demon possession and the need of people to be freed of such possession by direct confrontation and spiritual warfare?
The movie makes clear by multiple references to it, that satan’s goal is to kill and destroy. That is no more apparent than in the action of serial killers, like the serial killer in this movie whose name, Edward Wayne Brady, is composed of the first, middle and last name of serial killers who have gained some notoriety. Clearly he represents all serial killers. Thus the film implies all serial killers are to some degree influenced, if not totally possessed, by evil spirits. That would include the transgender serial killer at the Nashville Christian school as Jonathan Cahn so aptly points out. Does that fit your theology? If not, why not? Jesus said “The thief comes only to kill, steal and destroy.” (John 10.10) That this is satan’s goal is made abundantly clear by multiple references to the demonic goal of killing in the movie.
As good works of fiction do, Nefarious presents a fictional scenario framed and constructed from real world truths and constraints to give an unmistakable feeling of reality. One example is the level of satanic influence. The demon points out the levels of control they go through in interacting with a person until they’re possessed: extreme temptation, obsession, infestation, oppression, then complete subjection where the demonic spirit “owns” the person, which equates to possession. To deal with the demonic, a Catholic priest started an organization, the International Association of Exorcists, to increase the church’s ability to deal with demonic possession. This is a need the Catholic church officially recognizes. What about the Protestant church? For you evangelicals out there, does your church formally recognize demonic possession and that an exorcism might ever be necessary? Not just evangelicals, but Protestants in general appear to be MIA in this spiritual fight. This is a reluctant comment I say to their shame.
Adam Bai, a layman, is an auxiliary member of the association. He says the Catholic church recognizes three levels of demonic activity: infestation, oppression, and possession. Infestation is where a demon is active in a place or space. Oppression occurs when the evil spirit has attached itself to a person. Possession happens when the person has allowed the demon to take over. It corresponds to what’s presented in the movie. This is what I mean by the realism factor.
Appropriately the movie points out that a battle is being waged. After the demon claims his first of three predictions has come true, he asks if the doctor is ready for round two. The atheist psychiatrist says he didn’t know he was in a fight. “That’s why you’re losing” the demon shoots back. Could the same be said for many in the church? When the demon lists satanic accomplishments and one considers the current spiritual health of this country, it’s difficult to deny demonic influences appear to be winning, though the church should be victorious in this area. Jesus empowered his disciples to defeat the enemy. (Luke 10.19) Why are not Christians today claiming and using that authority? When Jesus cast out a demon after his disciples failed to do so, Jesus’ disciples asked him why they couldn’t cast it out. Jesus replied “Because you have so little faith.” (Matt 17.20) Would Jesus make the same diagnosis for many of his followers today?
Unlike The Exorcist (1973), where you left the theater wondering how much is true, this movie challenges you to find something that’s not true based on scripture and actual practice, be it medical, judicial, or the theology of dealing with demons, which is necessarily presented from a Catholic point of view because, as previously mentioned, Protestants are largely missing from this arena.
Again I ask: does your theology accommodate this? Does your church? When was the last time you heard a sermon on this? And I mean not what Jesus did but, as every sermon should do, the charge for what you should be doing to overcome the works of the evil one? Do you believe exorcisms are even ever necessary? If not, why not? Jesus did many of them. (Matt 4.24, 8.16, 8.28-34 = the famous Gadarene incident, Matt 12.22, 15.22f, 17.18, Mark 1.34 among many others.) And Jesus did not do this alone. He empowered his disciples to do likewise:
17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.
19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.
20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
So, again, I ask: Why are so many churches silent on this matter? As “royal priests” (1 Pe 2.9) why is not the Protestant church tearing down the strongholds of the enemy? (Matt 16.18, Luke 10.19, Ep 6.13)
That is but one of the many spiritual topics – challenges really – implicit in this movie. Though the film is being marketed in the horror genre, complete with an “R” rating (which author Steve Deace states is unmerited, and is essentially “sabotage” by the industry, PG13 would be more appropriate), let me point out that the movie is packed with scriptural references and allusions. They’re embedded throughout the movie. Some are what I’ll refer as “reverse references” (rr) where the demon has taken a verse and reversed it to apply to satan or demons instead of God or angels. For example, “all hell rejoices” instead of the angels rejoicing in the presence of God (Luke 15.10). Even so, the root thought is based on a scriptural truth that has been inverted, as satan tends to do. When you consider both types of references, the following are some of the references and allusions to scriptural passages in the movie:
John 10.10a, Mark 9.22, John 1.42, Mark 6.3, John 19.11(rr), Matt 8.29, James 2.19, Rev 12.7, Rev 12.9, Matt 7.6, Eze 28.15, Job 38.7, Gen 17.1, Matt 25.41, Ps 8.4, Matt 13.24-30, John 10.10, Gen 1.27, 1 Pe 5.8, Ep 5.25, Judg 17.6, 2 Ki 23:10, Rev 18.20(rr), Matt 4.5, Matt 11.17, Mark 5.9, Luke 4.6, 1 Cor 2.8, Is 14.13-14, Luke 4.3-4 (excerpts of it on the prisoner’s cell wall in Greek), Dan 5.25, Dan 5.27
No doubt there are some I missed. Even so this movie is clearly steeped in theological thoughts and concepts. Let me leave you with a final consideration to ponder as I close. James, the psychiatrist, asks the man for proof he’s a demon. The prisoner blinks his eyes and a hanging light bulb goes out. But it doesn’t merely go out. The bulb explodes. (This scene is in the trailer below.) The demon speaking through the condemned man gives the explanation that allows us to rationalize the existence of spiritual powers away: “Probably just a coincidence.” A Breitbart article titled, “When the Devil is Pissed at Your Movie” lists the many statistically improbable obstacles that befell the crew trying to produce the movie. This is another reminder of the working of the evil one and his minions. I’ll add this next one for consideration. On the night I went to see the movie with the express purpose of noting the scripture and other items that made the film “real,” at the end of the movie the fire alarm went off in the theater and the entire multiple theater cineplex was emptied, preventing further viewing. Is that just another coincidence?
Nefarious – (Trailer)
UFOs and USOs – Mystery Solved
Is the Bible Full of Fantastic Creatures? Part 4: Witches and Ghosts
Is the Bible Full of Fantastic Creatures? Part 2: Satyrs, Devils and Demons
A Talking Snake and the Alien Connection
1. In recent years Protestant groups like the one listed in this article have sprung up but they’re late to the party. It’s questionable that they’re dealing with the type and level of demonic possession depicted in Nefarious. It seems they believe every ailment is due to a demon, which is not how Jesus approached all ailments. It appears their theological grounding is lacking.
2. Adam Bai ref. from The Exorcist Files Episode “Infestation”, documentary 2011
3. The Greek katischuo depicts the gates of hell not withstanding the onslaught of the church
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