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‘Consecration’ review: this horror nunnery tale can’t quite figure out what it wants to be

Jena Malone plays an eye doctor who is quickly thrown into figuring out her brother’s death at a Scottish convent.

IFC Films

For as long as the horror genre has been prominent, it has interwoven stories of the battles between good and evil – more definitely, the fight between God and the Devil. The battle for the human spirit lies in the middle, where things like possession come into play. It’s scary enough that you can surrender to a higher power only to be overtaken by another. Christopher Smith’s Consecration speaks to this tug-of-war, but also adds a melting pot of other themes into its narrative. While its visual aesthetics give the film a sense of eerieness, it does not go far enough to develop the many things it’s trying to hone in on.

There’s a possible church coverup, suppressed memories of abuse, supernatural powers, and storytelling that tries to throw the viewer in for a loop. All of these sound great, but the execution will have you wanting more from a promising premise that never gets to take shape. Grace (Jena Malone) lives a quiet life as an eye doctor when she gets a call finding out her brother Michael (who she hasn’t talked to in a long time) has been found dead at a Scottish convent. Supposably, it was a murder-suicide, but Grace is not having any of this. This is even as Detective Chief Inspector Harris (Thoren Ferguson) confirms the story to her. However, something feels not right in these circumstances. Tied with Grace’s belief, she goes to the convent and meets Mother Superior (Victoria Donovan), who claims Michael slipped into dark ways and succumbed to them.

Not only that, but Grace is visited by Michael’s ghost while viewing his body, along with a slew of hallucinations and sudden slips out of consciousness when she visits the grounds. There’s no doubt there’s more than meets the eye here – considering Grace’s hesitance to revisit her past and the cryptic language she finds in a notebook Michael left (where she can only understand). Consecration contains a lot of history and non-linear storytelling, both serving as a runway for Smith and co-writer Laurie Cook to try to piece together Grace and Michael’s troubled history.

A lot of flashbacks occur, speaking of an abusive upbringing and a volatile father who not only believed Grace was the tool of the devil, but murdered her mother in the process. While Grace is trying to get to the bottom of this mystery, the church leader, Father Romano (Danny Huston), provides her historical context and is also preparing for a ritual of some sort. Undoubtedly, all these elements try to come together, albeit not coherently. Consecration becomes a victim of its ambitions.

Within all of that, it suffers from a lack of atmospheric dread. You’ll see things like a specter of a nun appearing in the mirror, lights suddenly turning off, and walking down through dimly lit crypts – yet most of it doesn’t help along with the horror aspects of the film. The atmosphere and landscape indeed call for it – Smith, along with cinematographers Rob Hart and Shaun Mone, accurately nails a weighty grayness against the beautiful hills of Isle of Skye. But Consecration has trouble shifting gears from being a murder mystery to something more rooted in spiritual malice.

Despite these issues, Jena Malone fully places herself in the range of emotions of the character she’s playing. At times, Grace is justifiable anger and confused about the things she doesn’t want to relive concerning her father and possible orphan upbringing before that. The film might pull back on details, but realizes it may benefit from giving up a bit more a little too late. With the interesting twist finale, you quickly realize it should have had more impact because it is indeed creative.

How could it be possible for a group of people to be in lockstep with a prophecy that means their own lives are at risk? A lot of this serves as an unconscionable reason for cycles of abuse to occur. Consecration asks those questions, but forgets how to bring about a sufficient basis for its characters to keep looking for the answers.