Directed by Richard Rowntree
Nefarious is the second film from director Richard Rowntree and co-writer Matthew Davis, following their previous collaboration in the 2017 film “Dogged”. Nefarious follows three, eventually intersecting, narratives: the first being its vehicle – a series of police interviews following a crime; its second following a strange group of people living on the edge of poverty, who have somehow banded together as a dysfunctional family.
Head of the family Darren (Buck Braithwaite) works at a wood mill, whilst another family member Jo (Abbey Gillett) works as a cleaner for a wealthy man living in the country: evidently, they bring the money into the house. The family’s other two members, Lou (Nadia Lamin) and Mas (Omari Lake-Pottinger) stay at home, watching tv, and snorting the day away.
The action begins when Lou is revealed to have worked up a substantial drug debt, and this starts to cause problems for everyone. Efforts to resolve this are made, and a plan is hatched and forced upon all of them by the aggressive and intense patriarch, Darren.
The final narrative is central to Darren’s plan. It follows Marcus (Toby Wynn-Davies) who is looking after his developmentally disabled brother Clive (Gregory A. Smith). We don’t know much about these characters, other than Clive’s fascination with a mutilated bird he finds while waiting to go to work.
It’s worth commenting on here that I can understand playing a disabled character in any respect is a sensitive issue, but I feel as though the character of Clive completely misses the mark. In this instance it comes across as an offensive caricature that maybe your friend would do in high school, but anyone would cringe at even the thought today. This perspective on a mental condition gets worse as it leads into moments that could almost be comedic, which clashes with the rest of its otherwise intense tone.
For the most part this focus on disability and an obsession with death is all we know about Clive and his brother until the stories begin to intersect. It is revealed that Clive works at the same wood mill Darren, and Jo is the cleaner for the brother’s house. We stay here for a while, following the two narratives and how they intertwine. We’re also treated to some hall of fame lines that will set up plot events later on in the story – “Good thing I did those two years in medical school!!”, which has a bad delivery which borders on the hilarious.
Aside from Smith’s portrayal of Clive, the other two stand out roles are Braithwaite as Darren, and Wynn-Davies as Marcus. Wynn-Davies has an something about him, that when his character has his big moment, he really owns the performance. I feel under the right conditions he can really thrive in a horror environment. Braithwaite takes a minute to get into his groove but manages to play the role with an underlying intensity before completely dominating personality. As the movie progresses, we also get to see him on the other end of the spectrum, when he’s been knocked down, fearful, and more human.
As within similarly themed shows like True Detective, Nefarious goes through each person and allows them to give their own perspective on what happened, allowing us to see scenes from different viewpoints, parallel timelines, and revealing how they intersect. For the better part of the movie, we’re left guessing on what criminal event has taken place, and this carries us through the film, adding a layer of intensity knowing that this will somehow take us to an unfortunate end.
As soon as the movie starts, its low budget is immediately noticeable but for the most part this works in its favour. I feel as though Rowntree understands how to work productively with what he’s got financially, and as the we progress, this low budget aesthetic adds a real grit to the final product. Intentional or not, this is clear even in the most simple of elements, like close ups on characters shoes as they walk; without the expense of motion smoothing, they just look like harsh blurs, but add this feels less clean, frantic, and increases the intensity of a haphazard and dynamic plotline.
I think the major reason the movie does, ultimately, suffer is its reliance on character decisions and actions that make less than zero sense. It’s too hard to ignore a character refusing to phone the police after being beaten up by an employee because he thinks he’ll eventually get what’s coming to him, and not because it’s important to the plot.
This is a film with some aspects working against it, the acting in some places is choppy, and plot issues and silly character choices that are too out there to justify, but this doesn’t let them hold it back. Getting past this, once it gets going it’s an intense flick, which for the most part I’d recommend, but unfortunately is held back by a third act that comes out of left field and with what we’ve seen prior to it, unearned.