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Stigmata   C+

MGM Pictures

Year Released: 1999
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Rupert Wainwright
Writer: Tom Lazarus
Cast: Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce, Nia Long, Thomas Kopache.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Stigmata could be billed as "The Exorcist for the MTV generation." With its rapid-fire imagery, pulsating soundtrack, and questions of religion and faith (even dipping into demonic possession), I think that's an apt description. It's also the movie that Catholic groups should have been attacking in 1999 -- rather than wasting their time bashing Kevin Smith's clearly affectionate fable Dogma. If Catholics found Dogma offensive, don't let 'em see Stigmata because this one practically brings down their entire institution.

Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) is your typical twentysomething club-hopping urbanite atheist. After receiving some rosary beads from her mother as a gift, her world is sent into upheaval as she starts experiencing hallucinations and bloody marks of "stigmata." Stigmata is a phenomenon that only happens to faithfully religious people; they experience wounds like those of the crucified Christ, but there is no sound explanation for it. Strange, 'cause Frankie doesn't even believe in God. Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) is sent by the higher-ups of the Catholic Church to investigate.

This movie could have easily fallen into the trap of being perceived as high camp. With a lesser cast and director, it may have been hilariously bad -- almost an unintentional parody of films like The Exorcist. Luckily, Stigmata avoids this trap the best it can, and the main ingredient that makes it credible is the terrific performance by Gabriel Byrne. He practically holds the film on his shoulders, and those aren't bad shoulders to be resting on.

Patricia Arquette doesn't fare quite as well. It's not her fault, though. Somehow it just seems funny whenever she talks and a demonic voice comes out. It was creepy as hell when Linda Blair did the same thing almost 20 years ago, but here it almost seems ludicrous. Arquette's "stigmata" scenes, with her thrashing about and screaming half-heatedly as visions of a bloody crucifixion flash on the screen, are entirely ineffective and might even inspire a few unintentional laughs. But whenever Byrne is on-screen, he somehow lends a credibility to the proceedings that they otherwise would have lacked.

Stigmata does pose some interesting questions, and the plot moves along a refreshing pace. It has something intriguing to say, but strict Catholics are warned that it portrays the higher-ups of the Catholic Church as deceitful bastards. The message Stigmata sends is beautiful on some level, and Gabriel Byrne's performance alone may merit this one a quick peek.

Review published 03.03.2000.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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