Directed by Christopher Smith
Screenplay by Christopher Smith & Laurie Cook
Starring Jena Malone, Danny Huston, Ian Pirie, Thoren Ferguson, Janet Suzman, & Steffan Cennydd.
★★★ (out of ★★★★★)
The following essay contains
All hope abandon, ye who enter here.
Christopher Smith came out of the gate as a feature film director with several excellent, underrated horror films, one after another: Creep (2004), Severance (2006), Triangle (2009), and the best of them all, Black Death (2010), a medieval Gothic horror starring Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne. Smith has dipped the directorial toes in a bunch of different ponds. Although since 2020 and The Banishing, it seems Smith is returning, at least for a while, to his original stomping grounds in the horror genre. His latest film, Consecration, is the story of a woman named Grace (Jena Malone) whose brother’s apparent suicide in a remote Scottish convent wraps her up in a dangerous mystery. Grace travels to Scotland to visit the convent in hopes to find answers about how, and why, her brother killed himself. She meets Father Romero (Danny Huston) and the convent’s nuns, and while the priest appears more eager to help the nuns are far less hospitable to Grace. It doesn’t take long before Grace understands there is far more to her brother’s death than she was originally led to believe, and the truth has dark consequences.
While Consecration isn’t near Smith’s best horror film, it’s an interesting little story that digs into the abusive secrecy and historical misogyny of the Roman Catholic Church. The film may not fire on all cylinders, and its use of certain horror visuals gets repetitive after a while—though a visual homage to the Polish film Mother Joan of the Angels (1961) works wonderfully—but the plot and story contain enough unsettling material to make it worthwhile. When Consecration is at its best it makes strong, disturbing observations about how the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church itself allow, and typically encourage, the abuses of individual people who follow the Church’s teaching. Grace eventually discovers how she fits painfully into this awful tapestry of abuses, and that the secrecy previously surrounding her place within it is what swallowed her brother up in darkness.
Apart from the religious aspects of Consecration, the film offers a compelling look at cycles of abuse and how/whether people escape them through the vast juxtaposition between Grace and her brother Michael. Whereas Michael went from one convent when he and his sister were little to another once he grew up, Grace got as far away from the Church as possible, in figurative and literal senses. Grace rejected religion by getting far from the Church and a convent, moving to the heart of the city. She also moved far from religion by leaning towards atheism, and on top of that she went into the sciences as an adult, becoming an eye doctor. There’s even a deeply buried bit of symbolism here as Grace works in the field of sight/seeing, of obstructed vision; that is, she helps people see clearly, that seeing is believing, which is far from an act of faith. The difference between Michael and Grace is that Michael was encompassed by the traumas of their shared past, and though Grace, by the time the film’s over, must confront the truth of her traumas, she’s not consumed by them in the same way as her brother.
Misogyny is rampant within the Roman Catholic Church and it eventually becomes the centrepiece of Consecration. Women cannot be ordained as priests (etc) because the Roman Catholic Church believes that since Jesus only had male apostles, this translates to only men should be priests teaching the Lord’s word, and yet a woman gave birth to Christ, literally bringing the supposed saviour into the world. It’s become a paradox of the Roman Catholic Church, in that they’re the Christian denomination that celebrates and reveres the Virgin Mary more than any other group, yet they still insist on relegating women to lesser roles in the Church than men. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (not an ancient document; a catechism drafted and implemented between 1985-1992) actually states that devotion to Mary, mother of Jesus is “intrinsic to Christian worship.” Somehow this still hasn’t led to women being ordained as priests/bishops, continuing to perpetuate a gendered hierarchy in the Church.
We see the struggle of women under the Church in Consecration with Mother Superior, who’s an imposing figure but whose relative power in the convent is still usurped by Father Romero, the sole man at the convent. Mother Superior and the nuns likewise represent the patriarchal force of internalised misogyny that’s been instilled in women who follow the teachings of Catholicism, as most of them either try to kill Grace or, at the very least, play a part in trying to “consecrate her.” In one scene, Mother Superior says that Grace “must be purified, cleansed, contained.” She and the convent’s nuns help reinforce the misogynistic scapegoating by the Church that goes all the way back to Eve herself, the original scapegoat of Christianity. At one point, Grace’s power is said to be “a threat to Christ.” In a way, Grace took up her role as the new Eve, blamed as the reason for all sorts of horrors when the Church actually committed them against her. One great, telling moment is when Mother Superior tells Grace that the latter’s horrifying visions of death at the convent are of her “past” and of her “future,” which seems to embody the trajectory of the Catholic Church when it comes to its misogyny.
Terrors of the mind and traumas to the body are Consecration‘s main focus, above all the patriarchal brainwashing. Near the end of the film, Grace says: “Healing just used to be forgetting. But I‘m realising that my body actually remembers things that my mind just can‘t.” This line’s ideas are obviously a major part of the film’s plot and story. They’re just as much related to the reality of the Roman Catholic Church. The Church’s many abuses—particularly the worldwide molestation of children by priests, and the horrific Indigenous residential schools in Canada—have historically been forgotten on purpose by the Church and its members, a wilful forgetfulness in an effort to not actually confront and deal with the resulting ugliness of those abuses. But the history of those abuses lies, active and dormant, in the minds of those haunted by the scars the Church has left behind. Power lies in remembering and recognising the scars.
On an allegorical level, Grace recovering her memory is the collective awakening of those who’ve been abused by the Roman Catholic Church, many of whom were traumatised to the point they don’t always recall the details of their abuse and, like for Grace, the details come trickling back slowly in slivers. More than that, her reawakening to the realities of her own personal traumas and accepting her power is a strong statement about what it means to be a victim. While we don’t need trauma to make us stronger, the way we respond to our traumas, and hopefully overcome them, can bring us into a sense of power that helps us reshape our world and maybe even the world, as well as the people, around us.
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