Nefarious (Movie Review)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: When a crew of impoverished maintenance workers decides to settle their debts by stealing the winning lottery ticket from a mentally-impaired coworker, their simple plan turns into a complicated nightmare.

REVIEW: Anyone who saw Richard Rowntree’s underwhelming indie feature DOGGED surely has little expectations for his new follow-up, NEFARIOUS. I certainly didn’t, and frankly, felt quite vindicated while watching the torpid first half of what amounts to a vexing nonlinear muddle. However, once the movie hits the 45-minute mark, the dulling effect of the first-half is surprisingly supplanted by a visceral onslaught of stylish torture and grisly body horror. Alas, the overstepping attempt at one last “ah-ha” twist does not work, nor does any effort made to bank sympathy for a cast of characters that proves, down to every last one of them, to be pretty deplorable all around. It’s hard to root for any of these characters as written on the page, never mind the amateurish performances of many of them onscreen. It’s also hard to laud a movie that ditches its nonlinear narrative frame in the end. All told, NEFARIOUS definitely grows stronger as it progresses, which is better than the other way around, and while it features a memorably macabre scene or two, it’s clear Rowntree and still needs more time, money and a better script to make a truly fine film.

In contemporary England, a ragtag assemblage of maintenance employees at BF & Co. lives a hardscrabble existence. We’re introduced to Darren (Buck Braithwaite), Mas (Omari Lake-Pottinger), Jo (Abbey Gillett) and Lou (Nadia Lamin), all of which toil at a soul-crushing dead end job. One of their coworkers, a mentally-handicapped man named Clive (Gregory A. Smith) who everyone aggressively refers to as a retard, informs the others that he recently won £20,000 on a lottery scratch-off ticket. Nobody believes him at first, but when the foursome’s ruthless, swastika-neck-tat donning landlord comes around demanding they pay off their outstanding debts in short order, the group concocts a simple breaking and entering scheme. Clive resides with his older brother Marcus (Toby Wynn-Davies), a would-be doctor who harbors a major grudge over his little brother for ruining his career and turning him into an unfulfilled caretaker. It seems everyone is on edge. When Lou finds the password to Marcus’s safe, the presumed location of the lottery ticket, she and the three others sneak into Marcus’ house at night with plans of lifting the ticket and settling their outstanding debts. Easy enough, right?

Wrong! I suppose it’s worth noting here that the film hews to a nonlinear structure. Crosscut between the eventual home-invasion robbery is what apparently takes place in the present, as the surviving members of the group are interrogated by police under a hot light in a pitch-black room. I find zero need for this framing device, as it only tends to confound the action and stunt the story, particularly in the first half of the movie. Far worse however is the abandonment of this interrogation room sequence in the end of the film, which not only leaves the story open-ended, but again proves how unnecessary the device was to begin with. I have a hunch this was only added to pad the runtime of what is still registers as the bare-minimum of a feature-length film. The choice to cut back and forth between the recent past (the invasion) and the present (police station) is misguided at best, unneeded at worst, and really only makes the film more confusing rather than stylistically compelling.

Still, the movie somehow finds a pretty ensorcelling groove during the final 30 minutes or so. Once the foursome breaks into Clive and Marcus’ abode, the action not only comes into much sharper focus, but the addition of ultra-gruesome body-evisceration is sure to sate the blood-lusting horror fans that live for such. We won’t spoil the particulars, but there’s some gross and ghastly dealing with a crowbar, lopped of fingers, a vat of hydrochloric acid, a chain-dangling torture chamber, and a whole lot of viscid entrails smeared across the floor. It is right here, in this distilled 25-minute sweet spot of abject carnage and inescapable violence that the movie is at its most fascinating. Unfortunately, when the action dies down and the expositional ties are attempted to be knotted up, the movie takes one last stab at a “shocking twist ending” that neither convinces nor adds much to the story. Sadly, same goes for the performances in the film, with only Braithwaite and Wynn-Davies lending the requisite acting credibility to make the story at all believable. The others aren’t up to snuff, especially Smith’s overly childlike turn as an emotionally fraught grown-up autistic.

It’s always tough to honestly assess a film that is fundamentally hampered by severe time and money strictures. NEFARIOUS is one such film. Given its shoestring budget and inevitably rushed production schedule, the aforesaid sterling 25-minutes toward the end of the movie can be construed as quite impressive. Everything else, even with its production limitations, not so much. The overall result however does beg the question of what Richard Rowntree might be capable of given more filmmaking resources and a finely tuned screenplay. As it is, NEFARIOUS starts out slow and confusing, but overcomes its early torpor with a solid and highly-violent third-act salvo, only to fall flat in the end with one last extra overture. As for Rowntree, NEFARIOUS may be a cut above his previous film DOGGED, but only slightly.

Source: Arrow in the Head

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.