Stigmata Movie Review

A goth-lite rehashing of "The Exorcist" -- by way of "The Crow," with a pinch of Madonna's "Like A Prayer" video tossed in for flavor -- "Stigmata" has terminal case of style over substance.

From the movie's very first frame, the story -- about a generically funky Pittsburgh hairdresser (Patricia Arquette) who becomes possessed and inflicted with the wounds of Christ -- takes a back seat to moody, underexposed photography, a never-ending rainstorm allusion and rave-spastic editing set to a soundtrack by Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins and Elia Cmiral ("Ronin").

Arquette plays Frankie Paige, a non-believer who starts channeling a dead priest after being given his stolen rosary as a gift. When she begins exhibiting signs of stigmata, an ordained investigator (Gabriel Byrne) --with faith issues of his own, natch -- is sent to debunk her case by a crooked, cover-up-happy Vatican cardinal with delusions of grandeur (Jonathan Pryce). But Byrne becomes a believer and tries to protect the girl from his superiors.

Frequently laughable -- especially when it's at its most serious -- "Stigmata" dumbs down its religious elements, exaggerates its supernatural ones and seems more interested in lathering the Catholic church in corruption than it is in telling a story. The finale, which involves a lost book of the Bible, actually tries to get preachy (word to the writers: get over yourselves!) while cashing in on everything that's low and base in scary movie making.

Directed by commercial and video veteran Rupert Wainwright, "Stigmata" pilfers its every stylistic element from "The Crow" and recent vampire movies. The violent, supernatural attacks randomly inflicted on our heroine throughout the film are turned into horror-style music videos with flashbacks of nails being driven through (I assume) Jesus' hands and feet as Arquette violently pitches, wails and bleeds. Frankie's huge, dank and drafty "Real World"-style loft in a dilapidated art deco office building has more personality than she does. And the possession scenes -- with Arquette in age makeup, rolling her eyes up in her head and speaking in (badly dubbed) tongues -- show a serious lack of originality.

Although the actors are all on auto pilot, Wainwright could have done a lot worse than the inherent talents of Byrne ("The Usual Suspects"), Arquette ("Goodbye Lover") and Pryce ("Tomorrow Never Dies"). But they're wasted a tunnel vision movie that values cheap dazzle and disorientation over depth of any kind.


Stigmata Rating

" Terrible "

Rating: R, Opened: Friday, September 10, 1999


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