Consecration Movie Review

Written by Kat Albrecht

Released by IFC Films | Shudder

consecration poster large

Directed by Christopher Smith
Written by Christopher Smith and Laurie Cook
2023, 91 minutes, Rated R
Released on February 10th, 2023

Jena Malone as Grace
Danny Huston as Father Romero
Jane Suzman as Mother Superior

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Consecration is a supernatural horror film directed by Christopher Smith and co-written with Laurie Cook. The film tells the story of Grace, who after the death of her brother, a priest at a reclusive convent on the Isle of Skye, goes to the convent to investigate. What Grace discovers brings together her past, present, and future as she unlocks the secrets of a mysterious relic with a bloody history.

There’s a lot to like about Smith’s film, particularly if you’re looking for a more psychological treatment of the ‘scary nun’ trope. I, for one, think the world needs a LOT more scary nuns. Nuns have had something of a resurgence on horror screens lately, in part thanks to the popularity of the demon nun Valak from the Conjuring Universe and the anthological entry ‘Asylum’ from American Horror Story. However, nuns have been terrifying for a lot longer than that. In an NPR article explaining some of the 800-year history of nightmarish nuns, scholar Kathrin Trattner explains, “One reason for the popularity of the evil nun trope is simply that nuns are concealed.” The world of nuns is similarly veiled, as convents and rituals make for good horror film fodder. That’s the long way of saying: I like nuns, and I’m glad Consecration is about nuns. Moving on.

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Lead actress Jena Malone is convincing and dynamic in a role that demands a lot of subtly. The movie is contemplatively shot, casting the white costumes of the nuns against the green of the forest and the bleak gray of the sea. What this means is you’re in for numerous shots of main character Grace looking at things and thinking. This could be incredibly boring, but a strong theatrical performance by Malone prevents this.

I also appreciate that Smith and Cook did not write a love story between a romantic couple, which is well-trod terrain. Instead, the salient relationship is a brother-sister bond, which invites the audience to more fully consider the history of the characters and is more in keeping with the goals of the narrative.

One thing that I have not decided, even after giving it some concerted thought, is whether or not I like the vibes of this movie. Let me explain – normally when you think mysterious convent, you think dark, cold, empty, creepy. But this convent is none of those things. There’s nice electric lighting, plenty of superfluous candles, the outside is lush and green, and the building itself looks more like a brick and ivy wedding venue than a nunnery. In theory, I like this as a subtle twist on the traditional trope. It’s very: “The horror isn’t the building it’s what lies within.” However, there isn’t a lot of horror within either.

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My main dissatisfaction with the film is one of pacing, which is related to my uncertainty about the physical manifestation of the convent. There aren’t really any small spooky mysteries to solve along the way since the film is more consumed with narrative flashbacks. The result of this is I didn’t find the nuns or the convent creepy at all, so the ambiance of the physical space couldn’t carry the pacing of the film.

It was hard to tell when the film is joking versus not pushing the fear factor far enough. For example, in one torture scene, the nuns apply crushing pressure by bouncing up and down on a big rock together. This looks very silly, but I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be laughing since the film certainly took this action seriously. At other points, like when a horde of nuns is lying face down on the floor for a ritual, Grace gives us a laugh cue with an off-hand comment acknowledging the absurdity of the situation. This left me uncertain of what are jokes and what are ideas that just don’t come across. Similarly, the technical blood effects read a little bit satirical(?). That is, I couldn’t quite tell if it was an autorial choice for them to look dramatic and surreal or if they weren’t done well.

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My other complaint is a number of loose ends that feel underplayed due to over-allegiance to the childhood/family flashback narrative. Because the focus on the film is so centrally on Grace and her past, present, and future, side characters and parts of the larger lore of the film are overlooked in their resolution. For example, some of the nuns are introduced as potentially dynamic characters, but these dynamics are under-explored. So too is the police investigator, who is apparently investigating the whole time, largely forgotten by the film. However, for audiences who agree with the film that Grace’s story is the interesting one, this won’t matter.

Overall, Consecration is a strong pick for audiences looking for a slower, more reflective take on religious horror. This is a good choice for a movie group that likes suspense, drama, and psychological genre influence in their horror. If you’re hoping for possessed nuns leaping out of the shadows to damn you to hell – then you’ll want to pass on this one.

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Movie: 3.5 Star Rating Cover

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Kat Albrecht
Staff Reviewer
Kat Albrecht is a legally trained sociologist and computational social scientist studying how complex data can inform policy, with particular emphasis on the nexus of fear, criminal data, and the law. In other words, she’s a college professor who studies horror films sometimes. Her research specialties are practical special effects, creature features, and arguing about the meaning of genre. Kat will gleefully review any film that takes place in the ocean or in outer space and exclusively paints portraits of herself.
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