nefarious merchant of souls as reviewed in the phantom tollbooth An engrossing, sometimes appropriately gross, exposé.

Nefarious:Merchant of Souls
(Exodus Cry)

The banality of the evil addressed in Nefarious:Merchant of Evil hits a resounding thud when a Swedish government official states that hiring a prostitute for sex is, in its essence, paying for someone to masturbate into.

It takes an international network of iniquity, however, to support this kind of perversity. Sweden has taken measures to thwart prostitution and the human trafficking that meets the demand, but that's an exceptional success in a global blight that continues largely unabated and abetted by corruption at shockingly high levels.

Nefarious, the first of three documentaries about the problem of sex trafficking, prostitution and the conditions that contribute to the phenomenon, sounds a clarion cry against this modern slavery in an engrossing, sometimes appropriately gross, exposé. Benjamin Nolot (rhymes with solo) not only produced, directed and narrated this cinematic abolitionist aid, but also helms the ministry responsible for Nefarious. If this is his first time behind and in front of a camera in those various capacities, as his entry sems to indicate, the next two volumes of the Nefarious series should be at least as engaging as this debut.
Nolot meshes a variety of interview subjects with aptly creepy re-enactments of many circumstances surrounding the abuse and dehumanization that mark's the world's so-called oldest profession. The latter play something like a modernized iteration of the old Christian TV series This Is The Life were it to have forcefully taken on the issues at hand. As for the interviews, Nolot not only puts his microphone to the faces of girls and women who were rescued from their pimps/traffickers (one of whom, sadly, returned to the trade before Nefarious was completed), but the aforementioned Swedish politician and a psychologist who has studied trafficking and prostitution number among the other distaff voices.

As for male presence, Nolot meets with the leader of a mission to save Cambodian girls from the sex trade, an author/activists who works for the abolition of human trafficking, a former tafficker, a Thai John who naively believes the girls whose time he buys at karaoke bars are happy to selling themselves, a former U.S. sex tourist to Asia who now forsakes that activity and, most mundanely, the owner of one of Amsterdam's infamous window displays where scantily-clad women give strangers come-hither looks and fornicate with them on a mattress in the back;the last guy is blasé as anything about his business, going to so far as to deny the peril in which his "employees" place themselves...pointing out not long thereafter that the gals should keep their hands near the panic button near the bed they use.

Incest and Hollywood's glamororization of hooking (see Pretty Woman--or rather, don't!) also play into this exploitation of vulnerable young women where kidnapping, want ads placed by "employment agency" fronts and duplicitous pseudo-boyfriends who lead their lovestruck prey into selling sexual favors don't do the trick. Were the movie's producers to go for an MPAA rating, Nefarious would surely merit the most extreme side of the PG-13 spectrum. Fittingly, viewers at the showing I took in near Appleton, Wisconsin were advised that if any of the action on screen got too unsettling for them, they were free to leave the theater for a while.

No one appeared to take such a break, but if they left for good, they would have missed a handful of success stories. Among the former prostitutes interviewed were a few who would become Christian, get out from under their sexual oppression and get married or go on to school. The joy they find in the Lord and their renewed lives is inspiring and contagious as their weeping and sobbing over their former lives is harrowing.

Nolot's passion for his cause shines with bright intelligence. So much is the case that he shows him and his crew chasing down one pedophile in Southeast Asia who attempts to purchase the company of a child (likely with parental complicitancy, another bewildering twist in the story), telling him to stay out of the town where he tried to procure the illicit company of a minor.

An after-movie Q & A session with Nolot and an Appleton cop revealed more frustration and victory in the battle against sex trafficking as both men encouraged audience members to join the fight against it. One of Nolot's pithier suggestions is the Red Light Campaign, where motorists pray for the end of the sex trade when they are stuck at-that's right-red lights.

Home video release of Nefarious is set for spring 2012, but it looks like special screenings such as this are the only way it is being screened now. It is Nolot's hope that grass roots marketing and activism involving his movies can help stem the tide of the sex traffic business in the same way William Wilberforce spearheaded the fight to end bond slavery in the 1800s. It's a righteous aim for activist film-making, and anyone of a sensitive disposition can't help but wish for the attainment of that goal.
Another worthwhile group to support for those interested in ending child sexual exploitation is International Justice Mission. Go to Thanks to fellow Tollboother Jeff Cebulski for the tip!