Review: Jena Malone is terrific, but supernatural thriller ‘Consecration’ is hit-and-miss

A woman in white nun's outfit covered in blood, surrounded by other nuns
Jena Malone in the movie “Consecration.”
(Anthony Ellison/IFC Films/Shudder)

Jena Malone gives a terrific performance in the hit-and-miss supernatural thriller “Consecration,” tackling a tricky kind of character: a person who doesn’t really know who she is. Malone plays an ophthalmologist named Grace — a symbolically loaded occupation and name combination if ever there was one. When her brother dies in an apparent murder-suicide at the remote seaside Scottish convent where he served as a priest, Grace heads to the coast to confirm her suspicions that the local nuns and police are looking at this case the wrong way. Instead, she discovers long-buried secrets about her own past.

“Consecration” was directed by the veteran genre filmmaker Christopher Smith, who also co-wrote the script with Laurie Cook. In past Smith films such as “Black Death” and “The Banishing,” he has depicted spiritual fervor as something mysterious, unwieldy and sometimes hard to distinguish from the forces of darkness. Grace would certainly agree. She’s not religious, so she doesn’t trust the convent’s Mother Superior (Dame Janet Suzman) or its visiting priest Father Romero (Danny Huston) — and many of the nuns return the animus, seeing Grace as a disruptive interloper. As the church prepares for a consecration ceremony to cleanse the property of bad vibes, Grace senses something sinister afoot.

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But what, exactly? “Consecration” is structured a little like a mystery, with Grace sneaking around the convent and gathering clues. She reads her brother’s notes and gets flashes of memories from their difficult childhood with their abusive father, while also uncovering grim details about some of this convent’s strangest ancient rituals — including a form of penitence that had sinners walking backward off a cliff. But she struggles to fit all the pieces of this puzzle together — and as she does, “Consecration” struggles accordingly.


One of the film’s biggest weaknesses is that Smith and Cook withhold key information so they can spring a big twist. When the threat the characters are facing remains so vague for so long, it robs the story of tension. It doesn’t help that Smith keeps the horror elements to a minimum, or that the picture is so drably colored and dimly lit.

Malone though is compellingly vibrant throughout “Consecration” in a role that sees her starting as an accomplished, confident medical professional and then gradually shrinking into confusion and fear as she remembers more about her tangled roots. The best parts of this film offer the viewer the same sense of disturbing discovery — realizing that everything we think we know about ourselves can have a different interpretation when seen through scornful eyes.


Rated: R, for bloody violent content and some language

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Starts Feb. 10 in limited release