Sean Patrick Flanery doesn’t mince words about previous faith-based movies.
The vast majority have been almost unwatchable, the veteran star of franchises like “Saw” and “The Boondocks Saints” said.
He argues more recent fare, like the 2023 hit “Jesus Revolution,” reveal how the genre has matured over time. These stories embrace studio-level production values and feature recognizable talents like “Frasier” alum Kelsey Grammer.
Now, Flanery is taking a personal stake in the genre’s growth. He plays the title character in “Nefarious,” a psychological horror film with more than a dash of spirituality.
“I feel like this one is so well crafted it could have come from 20th Century Fox, or Sony, or Paramount,” the actor said.
The story follows a death row inmate named Edward (Flanery) who says the devil made him commit a string of murders. A psychiatrist (“Entourage” alum Jordan Belfi) must examine the killer to see if he’s sane enough to be executed by the state.
The alleged demon’s name? Nefarious.
“This is one of the scripts that you move to L.A. for and find a roommate on Craigslist,” the actor said of the film, written and directed by Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon of “God’s Not Dead” fame.
He read the script, hoping he would be cast as Edward, or perhaps it’s Nefarious.
“Whoever gets this role is the luckiest S.O.B. I ever met,” he recalled saying at the time.
It’s an actor’s dream gig, no doubt. Flanery’s character gets reams of dialogue, and the story focuses on the battle of wills between the inmate and his interrogator. Even leading roles rarely offer such meaty material and screen time.
That challenge didn’t scare the black belt-winning actor, though, who teaches Brazilian jiu-jitsu to students at his academy in between acting gigs.
“I’ve been a competitive athlete since I was a kid. There’s no glory in the defeat of an unworthy opponent,” he said. “I don’t wanna be undefeated and know I fought scrubs.”
The film is inspired by the book series by Blaze TV personality Steve Deace. “Nefarious” serves as a prequel to Deace’s “A Nefarious Plot” and “A Nefarious Carol,” which focus on a demon with dreams of world domination.
Many actors intensely research a given role before the cameras roll. For Flanery, he said the “Nefarious” script did the leg work for him.
“My preparation is in the script, between fade in and fade out. The more well written a script is, the less work you have to do,” said Flanery, who previously penned the 2016 coming of age novel “Jane Two.”
“Nefarious” joins a long list of horror films tied to demonic possession. “The Exorcist” remains the sub-genre’s masterpiece, with recent fare like “The Pope’s Exorcist” tapping similar themes.
Flanery said he didn’t consider past genre efforts while shooting “Nefarious.”
“When you start steering your performance based on previous performances, it’s a little artificial,” he explained. “Trying to replicate something somebody else did on the screen is two degrees removed from reality. The best I can hope for is my one degree of fake to be so minimally fake as to be seen as reality.”
“Nefarious” may resemble a mainstream horror affair at first blush. The imagery and trailer suggest just that. Looks, once again, deceive. The story touches on the death penalty, abortion, and other issues, along with the eternal battle between good and evil.
The story introduces those elements organically, not with the rhetorical sledgehammer seen in some faith-friendly fare.
“Some films can shout so loudly you can‘t hear what they’re saying … [‘Nefarious’] isn’t shouting at all … it’s just painting a picture,” he said.
Said picture lacks the gratuitous blood and gore of most horror films.
“There’s the old, ‘a picture paints a thousand words.’ The right assembled five words can paint a thousand pictures,” he said of the film, which earned an R-rating for its disturbing content. “We could almost do this as an audiobook and it would be equally as powerful … you don’t need big bangs or explosions times ten if the dialogue aspect of the story is so powerful.”
Flanery, 57, takes his craft in stride after decades in the business. As a father of two who works primarily in independent features, he understands his place in show business. He’s also giddy to be steadily working in a demanding, often cruel, industry.
“I’ve made a career doing movies nobody sees … I haven’t done any big-budget films that have heavy-handed studio involvement,” he said.
“The worst film I’ve ever done is better than any of the real jobs I ever had. I used to change the deep-fat fryer at Church’s Fried Chicken,” he added, noting with a laugh that no one ever circled back to the restaurant to praise the perfectly crispy chicken.
Some stars might have a hard time shaking a role like “Nefarious’” Edward, given the intensity of the presentation.
The grounded actor left the character on the set.
“When they say, ‘cut,’ it stops. I don’t take any of the work home with me. There’s no baggage to unpack,” he said.
Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.