You know the drill with these Catholic horror movies: tons of bombast, fusty church backdrops, cheesy demon effects, conspiracies reaching into Rome, Latin words on yellowing manuscripts, fake Gregorian chanting on the soundtrack, actors in priests’ uniforms and nuns’ habits either chewing the scenery or looking uncomfortable. I get all this several times each year, movies that reach for The Exorcist and fall woefully short.
The British import Consecration manages to be somewhat more distinctive than these, even if its story doesn’t hold up any better. It begins with the frankly nonsensical image of a Catholic nun walking up to Grace Farlo (Jena Malone) on the street, pulling a gun from her habit, and pointing it at Grace’s head. The rest of the film, which leads up to that point, reveals the latter to be a British ophthalmologist who’s blindsided by the news that her estranged Catholic priest brother Michael (Steffan Cennydd) apparently murdered a fellow priest before jumping off a cliff to his own death at a remote Scottish convent. The hard-bitten, hard-swearing Grace thinks he was incapable of hurting anyone or himself, and travels to the church to investigate.
Early on, Grace tells us that her adoptive father is in prison for murdering her mother, and subsequent flashbacks reveal that her and Michael’s childhood was even more horrific than that would indicate. The rural setting and the photo attached to this review might perhaps lead you to think that this is a folk horror film like The Wicker Man, but in fact the story is a closed loop that’s oddly reminiscent of Donnie Darko, another film that Malone was in. Grace herself has been causing the wildly improbable events that have kept her alive since infancy.
This is the work of Christopher Smith, who has struggled to match the brilliance of his 2006 corporate satire horror movie Severance. (Don’t confuse him with American filmmaker Chris Smith.) The problem is that making something like this work takes more ingenuity than Smith possesses. Grace is stuck wearing nuns’ habits because the nuns spend the entire film washing her clothes after she passes out. That’s a relatively minor plot hole compared to everyone treating Grace like she’s the Antichrist, including the homicide detective (Thoren Ferguson) who’s investigating the case, and while Smith does have an explanation for that, it isn’t a convincing one. He tries to generate a sense of paranoia in the church between the Mother Superior (Janet Suzman) who has her nuns spying on Grace and the Vatican emissary (Danny Huston) who’s so helpful that he immediately becomes a suspicious character. That doesn’t come off, either.
However, Smith does occasionally create some striking visuals like the shot of the nuns lying on the church floor with outstretched arms around the crosses that are tiled into the floor. Malone has now grown old enough that she can play a doctor without us laughing at her — being small-statured and having a high-pitched voice will handicap an actor in that way — and her long years of experience playing trauma survivors like Grace come in handy here. Her British accent blends in well with the rest of the cast, but at the same time she gives a less polished, more fidgety, and more engaging performance than many British actresses would have given. If you are in the mood for a horror movie with Catholic trappings, Consecration stands out from the dross that Hollywood deals in that vein.
Starring Jena Malone, Danny Huston, and Janet Suzman. Directed by Christopher Smith. Written by Christopher Smith and Laurie Cook. Rated R.