Horror films have a long history with religion, using it to blend the terrors of otherworldly sin with the violent hypocrisy of religious doctrine. Christopher Smith’s “Consecration” holds many of the hallmarks from 1970’s British horror pictures. Films such as Peter Sykes’ “To the Devil a Daughter” and especially Ken Russel’s brilliant “The Devils” existed as gruesomely dark representations of the undercurrent of decietful evil held within the Catholic Church.
While “Consecration” is nowhere near the excellence of the afformentioned films, Smith’s film is quite gripping for a good portion of its running time.
Jena Malone is Grace, a young woman who learns of the supposed suicide of her brother (a priest). As she travels to the isolated Scottish convent where he died, Grace searches for the truth, armed with the knowledge that her sibling could not have been suicidal.
Arriving at the convent, she immediately puts herself at odds with the Mother Superior (the always welcome Janet Suzman). A strict atheist, Grace believes her brother was murdered and has no time for rehearsed biblical verses on the nature of evil or a nun’s opinion of how The Devil can possess one’s soul.
Danny Huston is the priest sent to take the place of Grace’s brother. While always a great presence on screen, the way the script presents him cannot hide that he is certainly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
As she becomes an unwelcome guest, Grace walks the path of something sinister. Finding her brother’s diary, she begins to unravel the mystery of not only the convent’s true purpose, but that of her own dark past. Every new reveal puts her very life in grave danger.
To twist a quote from William Shakespeare, “Get thee out of the nunnery!”
The screenplay (from director Smith and Laurie Cook) is involving enough to keep its audience interested. While it glosses over certain backstories that could have been clearer, the character of Grace (perhaps too obvious a name) is given just enough text for Jena Malone to craft a fine performance.
Armed with a very good British accent, Jena Malone navigates her character’s dramatic beats quite well. As the situations around her become more macabre and brutal, the actress stays grounded, giving the audience something to cling to.
When the finale is set into motion, things begin to border on the silly, until the picture leads to its “big reveal” that becomes a ridiculous cop out.
Up to the point where the filmmaker derails his ending (and does he ever blow it!), Smith’s film is an intriguing one.
Well shot by Shaun Mone and Rob Hart, Smith gets some effective creepiness out of the interiors of the convent. The shadowed candlelit halls are pathways of fear for Grace, not to mention how chilling Catholic decor already is in its design. Where some see beauty, others (such as the lead character) feel something more ominous.
Genre fans looking for scares will come up empty here. This is a horror picture driven by its atmospheric qualities rather than things going bump in the night.
Although Smith betrays the film’s engrossing first hour, “Consecration” is (for a while) a quite interesting horror film fueled by mystery, some disturbing imagery, and a sharp lead performance from the undervalued Jena Malone.
Written by Laurie Cook & Christopher Smith
Directed by Christopher Smith
Starring Jena Malone, Danny Huston, Janet Suzman
R, 90 Minutes, AGC Studios/Moonriver Content/IFC Films/Shudder