Select Page

INTERVIEW: Director Christopher Smith and Star Jena Malone Discuss The Religious Horror of “CONSECRATION”

Thursday, February 23, 2023 | Interviews


Catholicism and horror have long been cozy bedfellows. After all, one of the first things you see when you enter a Catholic church is a bloodied, crucified body, and the mythology only goes downhill from there. In turn, Catholicism has a strong relationship with horror cinema. Nearly as long as there have been films projecting nightmares on screen, filmmakers have been digging through the church’s toy box to find ways to startle, scare, and traumatize their audiences. In fact, the first feature-length film in Italy was L’Inferno from 1911, which showcases many terrifying versions of Dante’s hell. This rich tradition of using Catholicism as a lens to focus horror and social anxieties has been going strong since those early days of cinema before the talkies.

Now, 112 years after L’Inferno, we are still watching religious horror films. CONSECRATION takes a look at an extreme faction of the Catholic church and ponders if it is scarier if its beliefs are true or if they are misguided fanaticism. Writer/ director Christopher Smith created the film as a way to exercise through guilt and to bring some truly disturbing images to the screen. Lifelong actress Jana Malone (The Neon Demon, Contact) stars as Grace, a doctor who is called to her brother’s congregation after a terrible accident. Or was it? Both Smith and Malone were kind enough to sit down with us to discuss the film, the threat of the feminine, and what scares them.

Rue Morgue: What was the first kernel of an idea for this film? Where did that start?

Christopher Smith: I’ve been toying with trying to do something about religion for a long time. Way, way back I was thinking about the kind of what would happen if someone was born with real genuine powers. We would play it really straight but I couldn’t really get into the narrative. I was just kicking around ideas of things I liked. I’d found this amazing Czech film called the Valley of the Bees that had this sequence where this priest kills himself by falling through a hole. And so I embroidered all the little bits about how one step backward can give you absolution for your crimes. Then a producer I knew had written a treatment for basically a priest coming to reconsecrate a church, but that was all he had. So we just kind of joined it together. I went away and wrote the first draft and then he got involved, Laurie [Cook]. It just kind of grew from there really from two separate ideas that we morphed into one.

RM: The idea of suicide in religion, especially Catholicism, isn’t condoned – but then the fact that suicide is what’s leading you to be forgiven is complicated. It just kind of goes to show the lack of internal logic there.

CS: Yeah. Well, just the idea that you expect what to happen. You start to almost chicken and egg it, you start to think about things in a different way. I dunno what it is, Jena, you can maybe help me. All of my ideas eventually come back to me blaming myself, all of the killers, and all the things I’ve done. Ultimately, it’s about guilt. (Laugh) I dunno what it is. It always comes back to feeling sorry for the killer in some way. Not that you are the killer, but anyway.

Jena Malone: Yeah, yeah. But what you’re saying about Catholicism and suicide is it’s almost like they’re too small words. So if you go even further back you know, basically we’re all pagans so the idea of sacrificial repentance is a very old, old idea. Even the metaphor of sacrificing oneself for another is still tied into our most basic like Kleenex commercials now. So it’s definitely not a new idea. But what’s new about it is a modern institution using such an ancient belief mechanism. But even in the institution in this film, it’s still way out there and they’re allowing this sect to exist while also knowing that it shouldn’t. So I like that Chris creates this world where you can kind of paint into some really deeper layers of belief that still holds you in a world of truth.

RM: It seemed almost like they were bending the will of what was actually happening to fit into their version of Catholicism.

CS: Yeah. Absolutely.

JM: But isn’t that what we do to all things that exist outside of the realm? We put it in a box so that we can easily and more thoroughly comprehend it. It’s funny because a lot of the things that are put into boxes tend to be in the feminine realm anyways. And so it’s nice that in this film, the personification of everything that is too powerful and needs to be put in a box, is a woman.

CS: Yeah, absolutely. If she’s good and she is a messiah or a prophet, everything that we already have in that church crumbles. So either if she’s good or bad, we still have to put her in the box because it will ruin everything. In terms of bringing Danny Houston’s character over, he comes over knowing that they’re definitely the “Looney Fringe,” of the church, but he’s aware of what was in the history books. He’s a believer, and so he believes that, so you’re dealing with people that are coming from a place of strong belief. But yeah. Anyway, I’m rambling, but that is kind of the same thing I think you were saying Jenna, it’s, she has to go in the box either way, for them.

JM: Well, what’s just so cool is that even throughout history and even in contemporary times, what real relics the Catholic church, or rather any church, sits on and doesn’t share with the public is really interesting. What they’re choosing to hide eventually comes out. The lost scrolls of the Bible. Wow, okay, so what else is there? It’s storytelling. There’s so much there that can be really explored.

RM: Is it bad or is it good and, is there really such a thing as bad or good?

CS: Where she was, for all the years that she was there, it was okay. Life carried on, so let’s just return it and then we’ll just carry on. It’s the idea, as Jenna said, of burying slightly official secrets for the church. Let’s just keep it locked away until the audience can handle it.

JM: But all governments or bodies of power operate in the same thinking. Even in a really streamlined way as a parent, what do I hold and conceal from my child? He’s not getting all the artifacts of the universe. I am thoroughly and decisively showing him, allowing him, bringing certain things in. The thinking is not wrong. I understand the idea that some things are not quite ready to be known. But I think that at a certain point, those that are holding the power of those types of knowledgeable bodies corrupt themselves. They realize the chaos theory is far too strong to really ever fully helicopter parent a society.

RM: There is a very close tie between horror and Catholicism. Do you have a personal relationship that inspired you to want to be involved in this film specifically?

JM: I wasn’t raised Catholic. I had a sort of non-denominational Christian-ish upbringing, but with lesbian parents. I think anything sort of mysterious for me as a child was something I wanted to explore. I like all of the tropes of filmmaking. Why are we obsessed with this? Are we obsessed with the things that we just don’t know or that we can’t control? I think the beauty of Catholicism that really sets it apart from a lot of other religions is the austerity of its rituals. How much it’s open about how much it keeps behind closed doors. It’s very upfront about that. It’s all about appearances in a lot of ways. It’s ripe for wanting to go deeper and understand it. But I didn’t have any crazy fanatical parents that locked me in the basement or anything.

RM: Well that’s good.

CS: For me, fanaticism and fundamentalism are the things that scare me the most. Looking into that world through religion – I went to Sunday school; I was scared to death by The Exorcist. I walk into any big church and I feel something that’s in its presence. That’s what led me to these things for myself. I’m interested in religion. We wanted the character of Grace to be someone who is pure science, an atheist, a doctor, who gradually realizes the answers she’s looking for are not scientifically answerable in this story.

RM: What scares you?

CS: I love Poltergeist, but I’m not scared of hauntings. In fact, I got interviewed and someone asked if I had ever had a strange supernatural thing happen. No. I’m scared of fundamentalism. I’m scared of people that want to kill you for a belief that’s theirs which you know is not real, is not right. And that really scares me. I think that is born out of the last 10 years, 20 years. We’ve been going through this pronounced version of fundamentalism. I think that’s what scares me the most

RM: Yeah, that’s terrifying. Jenna?

JM: It’s funny, I never really had any phobias or fears besides insects, giant snakes, and things as a kid. But even that lessened as I got older. Recently I’ve been not liking smaller spaces. I wanna be outside. Maybe it’s from being masked for so long. I just don’t wanna be in tiny spaces, but it’s not like a full, giant fear. Also, I think pretty omnipresent throughout my entire life, just being terrified of the, like unhealed masculine. That is a pretty continual conundrum that keeps me up at night.

RM: What do you want a viewer to take away from this film?

CS: I want you to be scared. I like films where you’re scared but you also think. I’ve always loved movies that take you inside a character and make you question your own feelings about religion and your place in that world. What I really want from this is for you to walk out and have something to chat about. That’s my biggest ambition for it.

JM: Stories need to be told a thousand times before they can move three people. You have to just keep telling the same story again and again and again and again until it actually becomes part of a collective understanding. The more stories we put out about a female second coming allow a shift of perspective and narrative. Divine feminine, matriarchal society of the future. I don’t know where that shift could land you. It doesn’t have to be a perfect understanding of it, but just being witness to it enough times can sort of change your brain into rethinking all of the stories that we’ve been previously told. And I think that’s enough.

Deirdre is a Chicago-based film critic and life-long horror fan. In addition to writing for RUE MORGUE, she also contributes to C-Ville Weekly,, and belongs to the Chicago Film Critics Association. She's got two black cats and wrote her Master's thesis on George Romero.