Consecration” is something you no longer see: a Catholic horror film that is not on exorcism. Yet after decades of “Exorcist” knockoffs, moviegoers have been conditioned to anticipate cliches of demonic possession. We expect them to be delivered, and in a way they still are. For filmmakers were conditioned that way too.

Set in a remote convent in the Scottish Highlands, “Consecration” introduces audiences to a sinister Mother Superior (Janet Suzman) who talks about God as if he were the devil, as well as a group of young nuns who smile with too much sectarian devotion (one wears an eye patch because she gouged out her eye after thinking she saw Satan). We keep waiting for the other demonic shoe to drop – to see a possessed nun, or a group of them gathered together in a secret ceremony to conjure the Beelzebub of their dreams. It all kind of happens, but not with the standard formality of terror that we expect. And there’s no exorcist in sight.

There is only Grace (Jena Malone), a British ophthalmologist who arrives to investigate the violent death of her brother, Michael (Steffan Cynnydd). Did he murder Father Carroll in the chapel, then commit suicide by diving off a cliff from the tumultuous heights? This is the official story. But Grace, a humanist skeptic who looks, in the opening scenes, like a rather cautious resident of Swinging London, has no faith in religion. She is more than willing to attribute the crime to demons of the human race.

For a while, so are we, as “Consecration” takes the form of a dark side Sunday school murder mystery. There’s a Scottish cop prowling around the edges. And there’s Father Romero, an emissary from the Vatican, played by Danny Huston with his usual insidious mix of bonhomie and menace. The set-up looks intriguing, especially when Grace salutes Mother Superior’s terrible theology by dismissing it to her face as “bullshit.” It’s a tense encounter, though you can’t help but notice that the rest of the movie has that dark, muddled indie horror-movie beat – a disjointed stasis masquerading as atmosphere. You might expect an “elevated” IFC Midnight version of “The Exorcist,” but “Consecration” is closer to Roger Corman’s “Black Narcissus.”

British actors play Americans in movies every day. It doesn’t happen as often the other way around, but in “Consecration,” Jena Malone doesn’t just sport a flawless British accent. She become British – her mood and mannerisms, the way she rocks sweaters and bangs and debonair politeness. She creates a compelling character, only to see the film’s director, Christopher Smith, engulf her in all the ecclesiastical Gothic malarkey.

The movie is about the mystery of Michael’s suicide, which probably wasn’t the case. It’s about Grace’s extremely extreme family background (which is crazy enough to look like a separate movie) and the visions she has dating back to medieval times. And it’s about the identity that she takes on, or comes to realize, is really her. She’s like the hero of Ari Aster’s “Hereditary,” introducing audiences to an otherworldly existence from the inside. (She’s also like Regan in “The Exorcist” if Regan was her own exorcist.) Through it all, though, “Consecration” becomes increasingly murky, blood-soaked, and contrived. The scene where Grace goes to visit her monstrous father (Ian Pirie) in prison derails the film. And after a fair amount of chatter about a powerful relic, we learn what – or who – the relic is. It’s supposed to be a real whoabut then you might want to cast out the demon of pretentious, pretentious sensationalist cinema.