Review: ‘Consecration’ (a relic by any other name)

A clever plot device wasted on an atmospheric nunsploitation flick that tells instead of shows.

Grace (Jena Malone) receives word her brother Michael (Steffan Cennydd) has died of a reported murder-suicide, something she’s certain he’d never be involved with. Arriving at a remote convent in Scotland, she is greeted by the Mother Superior (Victoria Donovan) and Father Romero (Danny Huston), both of whom assure Grace and the local inspector (Thoren Ferguson) the incident is an open-and-shut case. Against a backdrop of craggy cliffs, religious iconography, and Vatican manipulations, Grace begins to unravel the mystery of her brother’s death and a possible connection to her own tragic past. Grace’s brother always said he believed a guardian angel watched over her — even as she believed in nothing — but she’s no longer sure.

Directed by Christopher Smith and co-written with Laurie Cook, “the isolated zealot nun(s)” is a genre unto itself. These haven’t been great in recent years, from the bait-and-switch Agnes to the vision-haunted Saint Maud and even a Conjuring installment from the Warren files simply titled The Nun (which squandered so much potential, it was compelling to just script a better ending). Why do so many exorcist films (read: man-centered) get the better stories of good triumphing over evil — Stigmata, for example — while sisters get a raw deal (with the exception of singing with Whoopi Goldberg)? A crotchety seen-it-all mother superior, brainless sex-craved yes-women for a flock, and of course all manner of sin in a place supposedly free of it, all knuckling under to the current priest-in-charge. The best question this time around is, who doesn’t have the potential to be the villain?

Here’s one of those the-devil-in-the-details kinds of church-mystery films, where an atheist with religious connections who embraces science is drawn into questioning their own beliefs and made to confront good vs. evil. There’s a non-linear component to Consecration integral to the plot, mostly in the form of flashbacks not dissimilar from the film Arrival, leaving too many mysteries unsolved at once that drags down an already meandering story. It’s a show-vs-tell problem, where necessary and compelling scenes are missing — a shipwreck in a storm, a crypt destroyed in an earthquake, a source of knowledge for trapping the supernatural — interesting ideas the budget appeared unable or unwilling to support. In the end, it’s too much to ask viewers to just go with it and fill in the blanks.

Jena Malone and Danny Huston give it their all — go team eyebrows! The cinematography is effective, from location shots to elaborate interiors, and the story seems to be going somewhere. The first hour plods along before bearing fruit in the final thirty minutes; while the details are important, the way they’re presented is dull and piles on questions with no answers, making too much of everything sound suspicious. A rewrite within the production’s scale could have gone a long way to fix these plot gaps — a small miracle or two, a prophecy perhaps, or a moment’s glimpse rather than mere words — anything other than a throwaway line of dialog. Audiences may personally identify with the Division of Criminal Investigation detective, who candidly comments “I know you’re lying.”

Those able or willing to endure this lengthy preamble will be rewarded with due comeuppance and a resolution, but it highlights what’s missing more than answering all the questions. The most compelling character is Father Michael, the dead brother who not only has all the answers but the best understanding of what’s taking place. If there had been a better way to include more of the adult version of Michael into the story, the weight of his love might have carried the film through the preamble into the third act conclusion. Alas, this was not to be.

Consecration is rated R for action/violence throughout, brief language, and accusing cake and coffee of being sins.

Two skull recommendation out of four

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