Review: NEFARIOUS (2019) Horror-On-Sea 2020

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The team behind Dogged, director Richard Rowntree and co-writer Matthew Davies trade that film’s rural, folk horror stylings for those of an urban thriller in Nefarious. Indeed, they’ve crafted a film that starts off as a pretty straight forward crime thriller before going well off the rails and into horror territory in the last half hour.

Darren (Buck Braithwaite), Lou (Nadia Lamin, Homeless Ashes), Jo (Abbey Gillett) and Mas (Omari Lake-Pottinger, The Viking War) are broke with no solutions in sight. As if that isn’t bleak enough Darren loses his job. Then the local crime boss calls in a debt they have no way to pay back.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Jo is a cleaner for Clive (Gregory A Smith) and has stumbled over the combination for his safe. Clive has a mentally challenged brother Marcus (Toby Wynn-Davies, Cannibal Farm) who was a coworker of Darren and had casually mentioned at lunch he’d won the lottery.

The plan is simple. Break into the unoccupied house, loot the safe and get out. But the house isn’t empty. And they’re in more trouble than they can imagine.

Apart from some quick scenes of violence during the credits, Nefarious spends most of its time looking like a crime thriller. Much of it is framed as police interviews in a dark interrogation room. We see their testimony and the film plays out in segments. I’m not a great fan of this style. It makes it harder to stay engaged as you keep getting pulled out of the story. Also, depending on who gets interviewed it can give away to much to early.

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Thankfully apart from a mention of the scope of the carnage in the house, they don’t give away much of the final act. Because that’s when Nefarious goes from a fairly good crime film to nasty little bloodbath. There are several twists that come into play here, some of which really aren’t needed. But they do keep you guessing until the final fade-out.

There are some issues with the script such as there being nobody in Nefarious who is particularly likable, with one exception. And you more feel sorry for them than actually liking them. Everyone else plays out somewhere on a scale from asshole to seriously evil. The script also relies a bit too much on coincidences. I’ve mentioned a couple and there’s more that would be spoilers to reveal.

Thankful Nefarious keeps the stakes high. High enough that you care at least enough to hope the least evil assholes come out on top. That isn’t an easy thing to do. I frequently end up not caring how this sort of situation ends up. Here I did and was kept guessing until the end. The coincidences are another matter, especially the later ones. They had me rolling my eyes big time. The worst part is the film would have worked without them.

Nefarious is on the festival circuit, you can check production company Ash Mountain Films Facebook and Twitter pages for where it’s playing.

Jim Morazzini

Movie buff, gym rat and crazy cat guy

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