Movie Review: Jena Malone meets a Twisted Catholic Sect Awaiting its “Consecration”

The first word that comes to mind when considering Christopher Smith’s “Consecration” is “classy.” There’s a polish and high-mindedness to it, a sheen to its gloomy Scottish setting and real acting talent deployed in this “mad convent” morality tale.

Frights? Not many, to be frank. It’s a film whose violence is more of a wince than a jolt, whose “surprises” are depressingly conventional.

But it looks marvelous, from the shadowy “extreme” sect convent where it takes place down to the fanatical nuns who live there.

“Our zealotry is what protects us,” the Mother Superior (Janet Suzman) opines at one point. But nobody not wearing a habit buys into that. Not with what we see and hear there.

Jena Malone, lately of TV’s “Goliath,” takes on a British accent as Grace, an empathetic loner ophthalmologist who gets the bad news by phone from a Scottish cop (Thoren Ferguson). Her brother has died at this remote convent, and it looks like “a murder/suicide.”

Grace is instantly skeptical about that, and openly hostile to the religious order she meets when the policeman takes her to the scene of the crime.

It may have been a while since she’s seen Father Michael (Steffan Cennydd). But “my brother would never kill anyone. Or himself.” She’s sure there’s been a murder and that these demon-fearing nuns are hiding something.

Her poking around has Grace waking up, more than once, in a strange place, “plucked from the sea” where her brother’s body was found, or “passed out” and hospitalized from some sort of seizure. The nuns take her in, she gets out and ends up hospitalized before landing back at the convent, determined to decipher her sibling’s journal and learn the truth about this “ancient order” founded by The Knights of the Morning Star.

The cops fade into the background as she runs up against dogma, superstition and a whiff of the supernatural in her nosing about. Fortunately, she may have an ally.

Father Romero (Danny Huston) has come from Rome to ensure “openness” and “cooperation,” and to reconsecrate this troubled chapel and the nutty nuns who run it. Father Romero is the “explainer” in the screenplay, detailing the history of the order, and what is really going on in these visions Grace has of nuns leaping through an open window of the now-ruined 12th century cliffside chapel.

“God caught them,” Romero says.

He seems just as jaded about that as Grace, who doesn’t filter her language to suit the circumstances, or tamp down her fury at what may have become of her brother.

Malone would seem like a better choice, on paper, than she turns out to be as our lead. She gives us the fury but never lets us see the terror that should grip her as nuns come at her with knives and guns, or slash their wrists right in front of her as proof of their devotion and belief.

I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Huston, wonderful actor and famous “nepo baby” that he is. But based on the sorts of screen roles he’s offered, if he grabbed a stool next to me at a pub, I’d be looking for an exit strategy. The mere casting of him in this part makes Father Romero someone we never trust, even as he’s saying and doing everything to put Grace and us at ease.

Director and co-writer Christopher Smith, who did “The Banishing,” has a distinct visual style that makes his not-quite-horrific-thrillers look better than they play. This is high-toned horror, and not just because of the British and Scots accents.

The film’s inevitable march towards a worn genre solution to this mystery is further burdened by an attempt to “explain” what we think we’ve seen as something perhaps more logical, always a mistake. Leaving things mysterious and unexplained is far more interesting.

The best scenes let us sample Grace and Michael’s traumatic childhood, and force us to consider and pity people so wrapped up in a belief that try to end their own lives.

In a film lacking in real frights, the pathos of a young novitiate’s suicide attempt hits you hard, because it’s one of the few moments in the lovely and lushly-detailed “Consecration” that makes you feel something.

Rating: unrated, graphic violence, profanity

Cast: Jena Malone, Danny Huston, Janet Suzman, Thoren Ferguson

Credits: Directed by Christopher Smith, scripted by Christopher Smith and Laurie Cook. An IFC Midnight/Shudder release.

Running time: 1:31


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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