30 April 2023

"If You Don't Believe in the Devil, Declare War on Him and Find Out What Happens."

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. - C.S. Lewis

From Catholic World Report

By Jim Graves

Writer/director Cary Solomon and priest/theological advisor Fr. Darrin Merlino talk about the making of the film Nefarious.

The writing and directing team of Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon (God’s Not Dead, Do You Believe?, Unplanned) released their new movie Nefarious on April 14.  It tells the story of a mass-murdering inmate (Sean Patrick Flanery) who is slated to die for his crimes in the electric chair but not before a visiting psychiatrist (Jordan Belfi) determines if he is sane.  The inmate is possessed by a demon, Nefarious, who tells the psychiatrist that he is going to commit three murders of his own.

CWR spoke with Cary Solomon and Fr. Darrin Merlino, CMF, who was priest-theological advisor to the film (and also played a prison guard in the movie) about the challenges faced in the making of Nefarious, the reality of demonic activity, and what they learned through the experience.

CWR: How did you get the idea to do the film Nefarious?

Cary Solomon: Chris Jones, a friend who had produced a movie for us, showed us A Nefarious Plot by Steve Deace.  In it, a demon talks about how he destroyed America.  We knew Steve, and we knew the book would make a good movie.  Steve’s story had no story or structure, but just a demon ranting, so we contacted Steve and asked his permission to write a story with a beginning, middle and end, and a couple of twists along the way.  He agreed, and we got started.

CWR: Much of the movie centers around the dialogue between Nefarious and the psychiatrist.  How did you develop it?

Cary Solomon: Chuck and I can take no credit for that.  We’re just a couple of guys from New Jersey; we don’t talk like that.  We watch the movie and hear the dialogue and are shocked.  Did that come from us?  We believe it came from the Holy Spirit.  We did our research, talked to Fr. Darrin Merlino and Fr. Carlos Martins, one of the world’s premiere exorcists.

We’re also devout Catholics, fanatical Catholics.  We love Jesus and the Virgin Mary.  Chuck is a cradle Catholic, and I’m a convert.  We do what we do because Jesus tells us to do it.  We also know how to tell a story and figure out what a character might say in a scene.

In this movie, we also wanted to take on certain issues of the day, like with the abortion sequence.  It was a tremendous opportunity to make a statement there. … We also wanted to make a movie that was entertaining.  No one wants to watch a movie that is a sermon.

CWR: Sean Patrick Flanery as Nefarious, the demon, really made the movie.

Cary Solomon: We had worked with Sean about twenty years ago, making a secular movie.  He is a phenomenal actor, the greatest I’ve ever seen.  He’s probably best known for The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and The Boondock Saints.  We called him up to be in the movie, and he replied, “If you write it, I’m in.”

Our psychiatrist, Jordan Belfi, was a last minute find.  He’s smart, good-looking, and looks like a psychiatrist.  The Holy Spirit told us, “That’s your guy.”

CWR: And Glenn Beck?

Cary Solomon: Mr. Beck helped us on our movie Unplanned.  He showed us he had courage, which I admired.  He’s the man he says he is, which impresses me.  We wanted a media personality, like a Glenn Beck or a Ben Shapiro, to interview our psychiatrist.  We didn’t think anyone on the liberal side would want to do it, and we knew Steve Deace works at TheBlaze, so Steve asked Mr. Beck and he said yes.  Glenn Beck was amazing; he did his scene in one or two takes.

CWR: Fr. Merlino, how did you get involved with this film?

Fr. Darrin Merlino: I’ve been friends with Chuck and Cary for more than a decade now.  In fact, they were the first people I interviewed for my program, Hound of Heaven.  I had a Mass at my mother’s home in Huntington Beach for family and friends, and they came by and told me they were working on the script for Nefarious.  I told them I’d like to read it and serve as the theological consultant.

When it came time to film the movie I asked to play the part of the priest, Fr. Louis, but they told me I didn’t look the part.  They offered me the role of an extra instead.  I would also be on hand to celebrate Mass, bless the set, and pray with people.

CWR: You experienced demonic harassment while making the film?

Cary Solomon: Yes.  Ever since Unplanned, it’s been a battle.  This movie pulls the devil out of the darkness into the light; he works best when no one believes in him. We had eight or nine car crashes in about 13 days.  The cars were destroyed, but the drivers and passengers unhurt.  The building in which we shot our scenes about the devil groaned due to one of the worst wind storms in Oklahoma history.  But, whenever we paused filming the scene, the wind eased.  When we started filming again, it came back.  Our equipment often seemed not to work.

We had our premiere with many big names in attendance, such as Glenn Beck and Senator Ted Cruz, and the lights in the room started flickering.  The video we shot got corrupted.  Fr. Carlos Martins was there, and he said, “I know what this is.”  He gets his holy water and starts doing the rite of exorcism for a place that is possessed, praying his prayers in Latin.  Behind him he can hear the demonic chanting of a female voice.  He gets to the part of the prayer that commands the demon to bow down to the great and terrible name of Jesus, and the chanting stops, the lights start working, and the video is no longer corrupted.

There’s a lot more. Steve Deace got an infection and almost died.  Chris Jones is putting his little boy in a car seat and an SUV drives by going 45 mph and hits the car, narrowly missing Chris and his son.  John Sullivan, our marketing guy, gets out of his car and a woman driving by had fallen asleep at the wheel and crashed into the car.  He was okay, but the car was destroyed.

Newsweek calls to interview us about the film and 45 minutes into the interview our interviewer apologizes and says, “I’m sorry, but my battery is dead.  Can we re-do the interview?”  He re-tapes the interview, but calls back later and says, “I’m sorry, but the tape is blank.”  He emails us some questions to which we respond in writing.  We try to email back our responses, but the email won’t work.  We can email other people, but not Newsweek.  We got smart, though, and prayed to Jesus, the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph and St. Michael and suddenly the email went through.

At one point, nine of our 15 key personnel come down with COVID; I was in the hospital for eight days.  Then three days into filming we were struck by a union strike, no strike vote taken or grievances listed, just a strike.  They then tried to get the federal government to shut down our production with an injunction.  We went to court, and won on 29 of 30 counts.  We’re appealing the final charge.

I could go on for an hour about all the demonic harassment we’ve had.  When we do the DVD release of the movie, in the bonus materials, we’ll be talking about this.  We experienced demonic interference on Unplanned, but it was nothing like this.  If you don’t believe in the devil, declare war on him and find out what happens.  But the Lord told us to put on his armor and he is with us; I want you to do this.

Fr. Darrin Merlino: The devil tried to take me out!  I had appendicitis during the filming in Oklahoma, and when I went in for the operation, my appendix burst.  The doctor said had I waited another hour I could have died.  God really protected me; it happened on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, so I also think the Blessed Mother had my back.

Also, when we were filming the scene in which the devil shares his dark gospel, Oklahoma had it most sustained wind storm in history.  Every time the director would yell action, the wind would blow so hard it caused the metal on the roof to bend.  It sounded like the Titanic ripping in half.  Then the director would yell “cut”, and the wind would die down.  It was like that all day for 12 hours.

But the most startling thing to me happened one night when I said Mass at an Airbnb in which we stayed.  First off, it was December, and the house was decorated for Christmas.  When we came into the home in the evening, all the religious-themed decorations had been thrown down and damaged.  The secular decorations were untouched.

I set up a table with an altar cloth and corporal for mass.  I left the room and came back, and discovered an entity had urinated on the upper right and lower left of the corporal, and defecated on the exact spot where I would have put the host.  It was as if the devil had marked the spot … There was no person or animal in the room that could have done it.  It was the craziest day of the whole shoot, and the most demonically attacked I have ever been.

CWR: What impact did participating in this movie have on your faith?

Fr. Darrin Merlino: I had never seen God and the devil “play tennis” like this before.  The devil didn’t want this movie to happen.  The amount of supernatural energy he spent trying to stop the movie was quite remarkable.

CWR: What reaction has the film had?

Cary Solomon: We’ve have a very small marketing budget, so it has been hard to get the film out there.  We’ve worked with the Catholic media, we’ve reached out to Evangelicals and conservative personalities, such as Glenn Beck.

Of those who have seen the film, 99 out of 100 are flattened, stunned.  They are aware of the devil in their lives and want to be free of him.  Women who have had abortions are regretting their decision and coming to the Lord.  People are coming back to see the film two and three times, and are bringing their family and friends.  Priests are telling me the film is spectacular, and the Evangelicals are saying the same thing.  And, this is in a film in which there is no spectacle.  Much of it depicts two guys talking in a room.

A 16-year-old kid told me it was the greatest movie he’s ever seen.  He’s fired up with his faith, and said it made him believe in God even more.  This is the generation we need to reach—we did the poster as we did to bring in non-believers age 15 to 25—which is obsessed with the occult.  This is why the devil is trying so many things to stop this movie.

You have to admit that there is something dark going on in the world like never before.  Evil is running amok.  But there is a merciful, caring, compassionate God who wants us to turn away from evil.

Fr. Darrin Merlino: We priests are really critical of religious films, but I can say that my fellow priests who I’ve spoken to, as well as exorcists, have been shocked how good it is.

You can watch this film two or three times and not pick up on everything.  It is a classic that you can watch over and over, and use it as a basis for discussion about moral and societal evils.  It is a great catechetical tool.  Despite its intense moments, I very much enjoyed the experience.

CWR: What is the best way to see the film, and how can people follow your work?

Cary Solomon: Check and see where it is playing in a movie theater in your area and go.  If you want more movies like this, please patronize it.  It will be available for streaming, and we’ll be coming out on DVD as well. To follow our work, you can look us up online, or visit www.believeentertainment.com.

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