This movie would make my top ten easily except for the propaganda that trotted itself out halfway through, thoroughly trashing the interest. Very few movies manage to do what the first half does, which is to make dialogue-heavy theological discussions interesting and gripping.
Written by The Blaze commentator Steve Deace, the book that inspired this movie focuses on the experience of a prison psychologist who must certify a man as sane before his execution. The man claims to be a demon, which sets up a binary solution set.
Normally, someone claiming to have supernatural properties would be viewed as insane, but the man-demon proves to have knowledge beyond the ordinary, at which point he seems sane, but cerifying him as sane would essentially admit the existence of a supernatural study to life.
Where the early part of the movie excels is in a study of evil, or as we might see it in clearer eras, disordered minds. They are not insane, and in fact have a narrow focus that leads to superior abilities, but they are also missing the wider picture, which makes them pathological tunnel-vision cases.
In this case, the evil defeats itself by being unable to shake its singular focus, but at the same time, is more powerful than the more-good characters who have multiple interests, concerns, and aspects of the situation they are contemplating. Evil is laser-focused, but oblivious to the point of existence.
Halfway through the movie, the Soviet-style propaganda comes out, as one columnist says is to the detriment of the mood it has established, leading many of us to recoil in horror:
Then I felt the flip of the switch Deace mentioned when Nefarious stopped preaching in generalities and channeled a conservative religious worldview.
First was the scene where Nefarious accuses Martin of murdering his elderly mother through “death with dignity, euthanasia, assisted suicide.” Then, a long scene where Nefarious beats Martin down on the issue of abortion, instilling a sense of panic and guilt in Martin for his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend’s abortion that I didn’t find believable.
Then, there’s this dialogue that gets in a culture war dig. Martin makes an idealistic statement that no one I know would ever make in real life: “We’ve never been freer,” he says. “Literacy is at an all-time high. We’re working to eliminate racism, intolerance, gender inequality. People can love who they want, be who they want, do what they want. Diversity is no longer a dream, hate speech is no longer tolerated, and politically, we’re reclaiming the moral high ground.”
While all of us can cheer at the mention that the civil rights oriented Leftism dream is an illusion, the abortion and euthanasia condemnation commits a begging-the-question fallacy, namely it assumes that we already think these things are horrible. Propaganda repeats what it thinks, not what you do.
In doing so, it attempts to override your mind and impregnate it with a mental loop that it cannot figure out because it is paradoxical, therefore controlling or at least interrupting thought, which causes the brain to turn to what is not locked up, namely that which the propaganda does not target.
This leads people to become confused and choose from among the options that the propagandists, by not targeting, have stamped with acceptance. For those who saw the Right go crazy over abortion and school prayer in the 1980s, this movie is like a bad flashback hangover.
That is unfortunate since it includes fine cinematography and acting, excellent tight dialogue, and lots of concepts introduced in a way that makes them crackle with portent and possibility. This could easily have been an amazing movie had it merely focused on theology.
After all, the conflict is enough: certify a man-demon sane and accept his theological view, or categorize him as insane despite his methodical and analytical thinking. In a less Soviet film, this would have provoked some character searching on its own and led to the same place this film goes.
While this film can be appreciated on its merits, the decision to make it into a propaganda piece — complete with Glen Beck discussing religion as a substitute for honest conservatism — ruins it and leaves me nauseous.