Nuns And Demons And Scotsmen, Oh My
Feb 15, 2023
One of the first things you see in “Consecration,” directed by Christopher Smith (“Triangle,” “Black Death”), is a nun with a gun. That nun is Mother Superior, the unhinged leader of a group of radical sisters in Scotland. She’s taking aim at Grace, an ophthalmologist with a troubled history. You’ll find out why eventually. Sort of.
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For now, “nun with a gun” summarizes this film’s bizarre cocktail of severity and silliness. Though “Consecration” grapples with plenty of dour stuff — suicide, religion, child abuse — and has all the trappings of a serious horror movie, it is ultimately ludicrous. That’s no mortal sin in and of itself — some of the best horror films are intentionally ridiculous (hello, “M3GAN.”) But “Consecration” falls flat, like a nun jumping off a cliff, because it under-commits to its craziness.
After flashing on that initial confrontation, the film backtracks to properly introduce Grace. Grace (Jena Malone, “The Neon Demon”) is a woman of science and a staunch atheist. When a Scottish detective (Thoren Ferguson, “Emmerdale Farm”) tells her that her brother has murdered a priest and killed himself, she’s immediately skeptical. Her brother was a devout Catholic living at a notoriously extreme convent in Scotland, so Grace goes to investigate.
Upon arrival, Grace refuses to play along with the shifty Mother Superior (Janet Suzman, “The Singing Detective”), who blames her brother’s fate on demonic possession, but finds a possible ally in Father Romero (Danny Huston, “Yellowstone”), an affable priest visiting from Rome. Though most of the other nuns seem sinister at best, she becomes friendly with a spritely young sister named Meg (Eilidh Fisher, “Call the Midwife”). As searching for her brother’s killer leads Grace through her own traumatic history, she’s overwhelmed by macabre visions that make her question her memory and sanity.
There’s much to dig into here: faith, ritual, organized religion, metaphors of sight, and glimpses of truth. There’s even a decent callback to medieval witch trials. But this pell-mell script, co-written by Smith and producer Laurie Cook (“Triangle,” “Don’t Hang Up”), can’t stick in one place long enough to make a cogent point and lets these motifs gain any depth. If this story and its twists feel predictable, think again — but not because there’s some satisfying third-act twist waiting to spring. Instead, this is a narrative with no clear internal logic. Once the central mystery reveals itself, there are only more questions to unravel.
When it could be elegantly understated, “Consecration” instead goes for an overblown approach, introducing outlandish lore with little context or explanation. That may work for some horror movies, but this one isn’t set up for it. The chameleonic Malone, excellent costuming from Emily Newby (“Flux Gourmet”), and a sleek visual and aural aesthetic all promise elevation instead of camp. As a result, “Consecreation” often feels at odds with itself, its varying parts failing to stitch together properly.
As a sinuous score plays over shots of Catholic ephemera and blood-covered nuns, it’s hard not to wish that this film had more to offer. It looks pretty great and employs some fun camera tricks — most notably, one with a mirror — that will make your head spin. Malone is always a pleasure to watch, even when trapped in an unfortunate wig. And Nathan Halpern‘s (“Swallow,” “Watcher”) excellent music lends gravitas to the otherwise flimsy proceedings. But the filmmakers needn’t have wasted all this artistry on “Consecration,” which erroneously strives to emulate “The Exorcist” or “Saint Maud” when it should have veered more toward Sam Raimi‘s “Drag Me to Hell.”
Smith’s vision is too tame to match his hare-brained script, leaving viewers to puzzle over this story’s many foibles instead of drinking up its horrific delights. For instance, characters’ accents land all over the place. This film brims with Scots, except for Grace, who speaks with posh precision despite her jumbled roots, and the very American Father Romero, who’s ostensibly from the Vatican. In a similarly nitpicky vein, Grace would feel like a more excusable name for a protagonist in a more straightforwardly hokey film. Here, it’s just another distracting idiosyncrasy.
That’s not to say that “Consecration” can’t be fun at times. For those easily swayed by blood, nuns, and Jena Malone — i.e., those with good taste — there’s plenty of that to go around. But this high-concept horror too easily crosses over from charmingly erratic to nonsensical. After all prayers are said, and all blood is shed, “Consecration” won’t only leave audience members cold. Instead, it’ll also leave them wondering what the hell they just watched. [C+]
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