Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"It’s good to see that Smith is still willing to risk biting off more than he can chew."

In 2009, Christopher Smith used the horror genre to do something entirely unexpected with Triangle. Ever since, he has been struggling to live up to it. Consecration bears some similarities, in that the ideas which it’s really concerned with don’t become visible until late in the game, but it’s nowhere near as tightly scripted and there are too many twee touches – hammed-up accents, a heroine called Grace, a priest called Father Romero – which distract from its big themes and dissipate the tension.

Grace (Jenna Malone, on top form) is an ophthalmologist whose orderly life is disrupted by the news that her brother, a priest, has committed suicide. As we will learn, the two have been through a lot together, and she doesn’t believe it, so she journeys north to visit the obscure religious sect where he was working when it happened, taking lodgings in the convent. There, familiar horror tropes soon come to bear. Locals are suspicious about the whole business but the police are clearly under the sway of the group’s leaders. A steely yet unpredictable Mother Superior (Janet Suzman) effectively cuts her off from the outside world. The nuns behave oddly towards her, with hints that they know something she doesn’t, as everybody prepares for a mysterious ceremony.

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Grace’s investigation requires her to search through time as well as space. Her brother’s journal, written in an esoteric code, references her having had no memory from the time before she was adopted. As she begins to have flashbacks, we gradually learn a little about her brutal childhood, which entailed being imprisoned in a cage by their brutal father. Then the flashbacks seem to give way to visions. She sees things which she shouldn’t be able to know, and things which haven’t happened yet. Unless...

There’s no shortage of hints as to what’s going on in this film, but they’re sufficiently submerged in the supplementary material that you may struggle to put the pieces together even after the rather crude ending. Portentous lines like “The founders called themselves the Knights of the Morning Star” are accompanied by any number of spooky nun clichés, whilst Grace struggles with identity issues and concerns about guilt which are not uncommon in abuse survivors. Malone is very convincing in her journey from confident, independent woman to haunted, anxious survivor, as the film deals with themes around the cost of giving primacy to truth.

It’s most successful on a metaphorical level, and in its positioning of religious ideas as analogous to personal ones. Grace’s reckoning with her father raises bigger questions within a moral framework which hinges on the concept of God the Father, and there’s Dantean tension between the needs of the individual and the need for order. The sect has an old tradition – perhaps still practised in secret – of taking one step backward from an outdoor altar for every sin committed, potentially falling into the sea as a result. The notion of redemption is a complex one for our heroine, who increasingly finds herself, rather than her brother, at the centre of events.

Not everyone will have the patience for a film which meanders in multiple directions and risks sliding into pretension with its epic conclusion, but it’s good to see that Smith is still willing to risk biting off more than he can chew. Those complaining that the film looks too dark and dismal throughout have evidently not spent much time in Scotland, but anyone with an eye for the country’s wild landscapes will appreciate their rugged beauty here. You’ll also get a more distinctive picture of the highlands than in other recent films which have made it their go-to spooky location but spent most of their time undercover of trees. Perhaps the biggest problem here is that if you do know the country, you’ll wonder that anybody would bat an eyelid at a sect like this, which seems far more placid and reasonable than some real ones.

Reviewed on: 10 Feb 2023
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Summoned to the Mount Saviour convent deep in the Scottish Highlands following the mysterious death of her priest brother, a woman finds herself increasing convinced that he did not commit suicide, and starts her own investigation as the nuns prepare a consecration ceremony to purify the holy site, which may harbour a dark secret.

Director: Christopher Smith

Starring: Jena Malone, Danny Huston, Janet Suzman

Year: 2022

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: UK


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