Maybe after nearly three years of a pandemic that kept us sheltered and separated, we’re feeling a little more introspective. Whatever the reason, just two months into 2023, and we have yet another religious horror movie. From the British filmmaker behind cult classics Severance and Triangle, Christopher Smith’s latest Consecration explores the confrontation between indifference and religious zealousness. Starring Jena Malone, Danny Huston, and Janet Suzman, Consecration has firmly divided critics leaving the religious horror firmly planted into ‘Rotten’ territory.
When Grace gets word that her brother is dead, she immediately travels home to Scotland to learn more about his death. Though she’s initially led to believe he committed suicide, Grace eventually learns that her brother, a priest, murdered a senior clergy member before taking his own life. Refusing to believe the official account of his death, Grace remains at the convent where she slowly unravels connections between past family trauma and rapidly unraveling secret.
Consecration a Visually Stunning, If Not Empty Thriller
Early in his career, writer and director Christopher Smith directed a handful of underrated horror movies including Severance, Black Death, and the criminally underseen Triangle. All of the talent and potential responsible for those movies is maddingly present here. Smith seems to want to tap into classic nunsploitation movies, most notably Ken Russell’s controversial classic The Devils. Several shots in the final act recall some of Russell’s difficult-to-find historical drama. In fact, Consecration is a beautifully filmed religious horror movie with each frame perfectly crafted and centered. The Scottish landscape looks haunting and some shots taken in the church near the end of this movie are stunning.
All of the talent and potential responsible for those movies is maddingly present here.
On just a mere technical level, everything about Consecration is absolutely first-rate. There’s certainly some scenes that should be unsettling. And Smith – who avoids traditional scares – constructs a handful of decent shocks. Yet each of these moments feels undermined by the story’s overstuff and often confusing structure. On one hand, Consecration lacks the visceral shocks that characterized the more overt horror of The Devils or other nunsploitation flicks. But Smith’s religious horror also often just feel s completely divorced from its own subject matter. The thrills are technical rather than grounded or visceral.
Consecration Suffers From Convoluted Storytelling
In addition to its relentlessly grim tone, Consecration suffers from serious storytelling problems. At its core, Smith and co-writer Laurie Cook are telling a very familiar type of religious horror. Specifically, Consecration is a kind of pro-faith horror movie wherein a faithless or questioning protagonist confronts a horror that inevitably requires them to accept their faith. Interwoven into this basic narrative, Smith and Cook undercook several other plot points that reference the Crusades and a religious ‘relic’, past family trauma, and bits of a police procedural. None of these disparate story beats coalesce into anything that remotely resembles a coherent movie. In addition, Smith relies too much on flashbacks to provide exposition. Rather than resulting in a jaw-dropping finale
…Consecration suffers from serious storytelling problems.
Perhaps the most unfortunate part of Consecration is that it’s anchored by several reliable actors. As the troubled Grace, Jena Malone (The Ruins, Swallowed, Donnie Darko) is as reliable as one would expect based on her extensive resume. Maybe her accent wavers here and there though it’s hardly distracting. Arguably, the greatest offence here is that it feels like the movie underutilizes Malone. Similarly, Danny Huston turns up in a supporting role that you just know should have more impact. Stage actress – and a former Oscar nominee – Janet Suzman lends some serious gravitas to the thriller’s early-going. Yet for some reason, Smith and Cook inexplicably sideline Suzman for the final act.
Consecration a Messy Religious Horror Movie That Should Have Been So Much Better
What a mess of a movie! And no, Consecration likely doesn’t have cult or ‘so bad, it’s good’ status in its future. If this were a poorly made movie starring unknowns with boom mics dangling in plain view, you’d forgive the end result. But Christopher Smith is a talented filmmaker and the cast here is strong. Moreover, Consecration looks so good – every shot feels like it was meticulously framed. Yet the story is a convoluted mess that relies heavily on incomprehensible flashbacks. And if you’re hoping for some nunsploitation, forget about it. A consistently dour tone ensures you won’t have much fun with this one.