THE STORY – After the alleged suicide of her priest brother, Grace travels to the remote Scottish convent where he fell to his death. Distrusting the Church’s account, she uncovers murder, sacrilege, and a disturbing truth about herself.
THE CAST – Jena Malone, Danny Huston, Dame Janet Suzman & Thoren Ferguson
THE TEAM – Christopher Smith (Director/Writer) & Laurie Cook (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 90 Minutes
Who hasn’t had a nightmare about eternal damnation? Religion has provided an excellent foundation for horror films for decades. The Bible itself even reads like an apocalyptic scary bedtime story. “Consecration” is the latest film to use spiritual peril to frighten its audience, and it wisely delves into the scariest religion of them all: Catholicism. It’s beautifully shot and has a wonderfully depressing atmosphere, but it’s more of an exercise in creating an effective mood setting rather than a terrifying film.
Grace is a young woman who finds herself suddenly thrust into a world of religious zealotry after her brother, a priest, is found dead at a mysterious convent in Scotland. There, she must reckon with her tormented past and do her best to fight against the horrifying fate that awaits her.
Jena Malone is our fearless heroine who wields her disgust for religion like a weapon, even when (or rather, especially when) speaking with literal nuns and priests. Malone’s naturally headstrong energy perfectly suits Grace’s temperament, and she storms through the movie with the kind of certainty that always gets an audience on a character’s side. She’s even able to sell some of the screenplay’s more frustrating, repetitive aspects, which keep her character stuck in one place for most of the film. The Nevada-born actress is tasked with playing an English woman, and at times, her accent work sounds notably labored. She’s shown a skill for accents before, most notably in 2005’s “Pride & Prejudice,” so this is a bit of a surprise. Still, it only partially distracts from her overall compelling performance. Also, as the main antagonist, Dame Janet Suzman is deliciously evil as the convent’s Mother Superior, bringing gravitas and power to a script that desperately needs both.
The screenplay covers a lot of ground in quite a short runtime. Child and domestic abuse, spiritual brainwashing, religious violence, and mental illness are all explored in one way or another. It’s a lot to throw at an audience, and all these heavy topics aren’t enough to make up for the film’s lack of genuine scares. There are a few moments of spooky characters appearing right behind Grace which are, admittedly, effectively chilling, but the directors employ this technique so often that it loses its power. In fact, the most impactful aspect of the movie isn’t a typical scare but rather the implications brought about by the fates of some of the characters, which is more upsetting than outright terrifying. Besides that, the film seems more satisfied with creating an unsettling atmosphere, which it does with creepy aplomb. The whole film evokes the feeling of a dreary, cloudy day in Scotland, thanks to both its visuals and general mood.
The cinematography by Rob Hart and Shaun Mone does a lot of heavy lifting in terms of placing the audience in a specific headspace. They capture the remote, ancient environments of the convent in a way that gives it a sense of menace which isn’t necessarily inherent to the space. They also pull out a whole host of camera techniques that are both thematically relevant and visually pleasing. In particular, the use of split diopters brings an odd feeling to several scenes. And early in the film, we get a trick mirror shot that’s a clear homage to “Contact,” which also stars Malone. It’s a spellbinding moment that serves as both a fun reference to those who’d recognize it and an indication that the film will delve into a world where things are not what they appear to be.
Despite its obvious aesthetic appeal, “Consecration” covers well-trodden ground for the horror genre. Namely, it explores how grief can warp a person’s perspective – one character even explicitly asks another about the physical symptoms that the stress of grief can cause. Like so many recent horror movies, “Consecration” is more content with placing the audience in a dread-filled location for the duration of its runtime rather than simply scaring them.