CONSECRATION Review: Effective, If Familiar, Old-School Christian-Themed Horror
In Christian mythology, the image or representation of a serpent wrapped around a cross generally signifies the triumph of good over evil (i.e., Jesus Christ defeating Lucifer/Devil).
Another, looser interpretation would suggest that a serpent coiled around a cross represents not the triumph of good over evil or even the opposite, but a state of never-ending conflict. Long associated with the Devil in the Book of Genesis who tempts a naive Eve with the forbidden fruit of knowledge, dooming humanity to war, strife, famine, and mortality, the serpent can be also interpreted as symbolic of pre-Christian paganism and its struggle, also seemingly perpetual, with the Christianity that sought to erase pre-Christian religions from the hearts, minds, and souls of potential believeers across Europe and beyond.
That conflict between Christ and its definition of the Devil, of Christianity and paganism, animated writer-director Christopher Smith’s (Black Death, Triangle, Severance) latest addition to the religious horror sub-genre, Consecration, a twisty, time-bending supernatural mystery-thriller set at an isolated convent on an island off the coast of Scotland. Long on intriguing, if underdeveloped, ideas and short on traditional scares, Consecration will certainly disappoint viewers expecting an unrestrained, full-on foray into the “nunsploitation” sub-genre apparently promised in the marketing materials and poster art.
Consecration opens with a deliberately perplexing scene involving the central character, Grace Fario (Jena Malone, Contact, Stepmom, Donnie Darko), a London-based ophthalmologist, and a menacing, gun-toting nun, before hitting the rewind button for most of its remarkably efficient, economical 90-minute running time. The Grace we meet a second, earlier time is still in London, still an ophthalmologist, but she hasn’t yet received the world-changing news of her brother Michael's (Steffan Cennydd) unexpected, unexpectedly violent death.
A Roman Catholic priest, Father Michael apparently died in a murder-suicide at the aforementioned Mount Saviour Convent on the Isle of Skye. It’s enough to turn Grace’s world upside down and compel her to travel to the island and start an unofficial investigation into Michael’s death herself.
When she arrives at the convent, the Mother Superior (Janet Suzman), greets her. A not particularly friendly or open nun who obviously has little interest in offering Grace answers about her brother’s fate except whatever’s strictly necessary, the Mother Superior claims Father Michael “fell to the darkness,” before throwing himself from a nearby cliffside, the site of the convent’s ancient, long unused predecessor, to the sea below. A local detective, DCI Harris (Thoren Ferguson), offers a handful of platitudes to assuage Grace's concerns, but little insight into what could have caused Grace’s devout brother into multiple acts of violence.
Almost immediately, Grace finds herself awakening at the convent, the result of passing out after viewing her brother’s body at the local morgue, her outsider clothes exchanged with the white garments of a novitiate. It’s enough — or should be enough — for anyone to flee back to the mainland and leave the mystery of her brother’s death to the local authorities to solve. Grace, though, can’t. She’s driven initially by a desire to understand her brother’s actions and later, to reconcile the flood of memories, visions, and premonitions that take ahold of her conscious mind with the atheism she embraced long ago.
Not even an outwardly friendly Vatican-sent priest, Father Romero (Danny Huston), sent to re-consecrate the convent's chapel, can offer Grace any of the answers she desperately wants, setting in motion the central conflict between the Church and their conception of the Devil, faith versus reason (as always), and Christianity and neo-paganism. Grace begins to believe that something — or someone (a guardian angel) — continues to intercede on her behalf, protecting Grace from potential harm.
While Smith does little to hide Consecration’s ultimate destination, especially for anyone even vaguely familiar with his narrative and thematic preoccupations, he still manages a consistently watchable, if inherently, predictable effort that asks more questions than it answers, including where audience sympathies should ultimately, with Grace, a literal victim of history, treated as an object and not a subject in her own right, or the Church, an oppressive, repressive institution that refuses to adapt to the 21st century.
Consecration opens in theaters today (Friday, February 10, 2023), via IFC Films and Shudder. It will be available March 3 on various Video On Demand (VOD) platforms.
- Christopher Smith
- Christopher Smith
- Laurie Cook
- Jena Malone
- Danny Huston
- Thoren Ferguson