‘Consecration’ Delivers Unholy Horror Soaked In The Feminine Divine [Review]
So often religious horror is male-focused. Sure, a young girl may be possessed and screaming in Latin while throwing up nails, but what the film wants us to really care about is the journey of the priest yelling Bible verses at her in an effort to “cure” her affliction. It’s exhausting patriarchy at work and at a point, it’s yawn-inducing. That’s why Christopher Smith’s newest film Consecration is a welcome breath of fresh air with a story focused on women, religion, and what it means to experience the divine. Smith takes well-worn religious horror tropes and borrows a few only to throw them out the window and deliver a new kind of terror in the name of the Lord.
Consecration follows an on-the-nose-named Grace (Jena Malone) who recently learned about the apparent suicide of her brother. He was a priest in an isolated Scottish convent, so naturally, Grace travels there to discover what exactly happened to him. Staunchly agnostic, Grace walks among the cloistered nuns and an imposing priest (Danny Huston) as she tries to unravel the mystery around her brother’s death.
Of course, Grace’s journey is often stalled or blocked by the convent’s religious figures, who don’t approve of her meddling about or poking around. There’s a secret they’re trying to keep and Grace knows it. But, Grace also has a few secrets of her own, buried deep within her psyche. The more time she spends at the convent, the more she learns not only about the haunting locale but about her own past.
Smith is no stranger to the world of horror. From his feature film debut Creep (not the found footage film) to his dark horror-comedy Severance to his dark period piece Black Death, Smith moves through subgenres with ease. He plays with genre conventions like toys, materials to not just use but to twist and make his own. And his approach is no different in Consecration as he teases one story and delivers another.
Malone turns a delicious performance as the mousy Grace who wants nothing more than to be at home with her cats and figure out what happened to her brother. She’s unassuming at first, but as we spend time with her, we realize her strength. She doesn’t crumbles at adversity or pushback. Instead, she pushes right back, and even harder. It’s a delight to see Malone, both here and in Carter Smith’s upcoming film Swallowed, bursting into 2023 horror with two killer, pardon the pun, performances.
While Huston’s turn as Father Romero seems necessary to establish the power dynamics at hand, he distracts from the fascinating matriarchal systems at hand. Grace mostly interacts with the nuns and Mother Superior, whose all-white habits evoke terrifying purity. Huston’s character, and his performance, are distracting, disrupting the strange flow Smith creates through the film.
The tone here, supported by lush settings that feel otherworldly, is steeped with feminine energy. Now, this isn’t a nunsploitation film ala Benedetta, The Devils, or Alucarda. Smith walks down that line very carefully, never fully diving into exploitation film territory but gives us tastes of that (just look at the main marketing image of a blood-soaked Grace in a nun’s habit). With whispers of nunsploitation and a commitment to subverting expectations of male-focused journeys of faith, Smith creates a new kind of religious horror that we desperately need more of, especially in the year of our Lord 2023.
Consecration is a film that needs to be seen with little to no knowledge of the plot. While the film is a tense slow-burn at moments, its reveals will knock you back and have you praying for more religious horror like this. It’s a film that rewards patience with a bizarre final act. Admittedly that may be asking too much from some viewers. But if slow burns are your particular flavor of horror, Consecration awaits you at the altar. Go on, you know you want to.
‘Consecration’ is a subversive piece of religious horror that rewards patient viewers with one wild ending.