Cult Movie: Stigmata one of the top supernatural thrillers of past 20 years

Gabriel Byrne as Vatican investigator Fr Andrew Kiernan in Stigmata
Ralph McLean

WHEN Stigmata made its debut on cinema screens in January 2000 it was dismissed as just another super paranoid new millennium potboiler. There were certainly any number of dodgy 'We're all going to die' cash-ins cluttering up cinema screens around that time – think of rubbish like End Of Days, for example – but Stigmata deserves more respect.

Yes it's another epic about human possession but that's a tradition that stretches back into cinema history and has given us some mighty fine big screen beauties from The Exorcist down. Surely the good stuff is enough to see off the inevitable turkeys that have been spawned down the decades?

Yes director Rupert Wainwright came from a pop-video-making background but the film's slick and slightly queasy visuals were par for the course back then and Smashing Pumpkins mainman Billy Corgan delivers a memorable score to match the stylised shots.

And finally, yes the Catholic Church took umbrage at the scurrilous subject matter it spouted but since when has that been a reason to disregard a good horror yarn?

All things considered then, Stigmata deserves a better rep than it has and hopefully its debut on Blu-ray this month will see that it gets a second chance to at least stake its claim as one of the better supernatural thrillers of the past 20 years.

Gabriel Byrne is Fr Andrew Kiernan, a Vatican investigator called out to Brazil to check out a statue of the Virgin Mary that has been weeping blood since the local priest passed away. When the priest's rosary beads are stolen and sold to an American tourist they get shipped back to the US where they wind up in the hands of a young Pittsburgh hairdresser called Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette).

Suddenly Frankie starts displaying signs of full blown Stigmata – a bloody manifestation of the wounds suffered by Jesus on the cross – and deep, weeping sores and cuts begin to appear on her wrist and back. Meanwhile over in Vatican City, Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce) takes F Andrew off statue duty in Brazil and sends him straight to Pittsburgh to get to the bottom of this potentially sensational story.

As the wounds get worse Andrew starts to realise that Frankie has been possessed by a spirit that is trying to convey an ancient message that will shatter the very foundations of the Catholic Church itself. Cardinal Houseman realises that can't happen at any cost and suddenly Frankie's life is threatened by more than just supernatural possession and weeping wounds.

Without dishing out any plot spoilers Stigmata is a superior supernatural possession flick. The flashy direction of Wainwright may betray his MTV roots a little too much but that doesn't mean the film is any less effective in its central conspiracy plot and how it delivers it. Byrne, who coincidentally also starred in the aforementioned End Of Days, gives a fine performance as the initially sceptical investigator and Jonathan Pryce is excellent as the conniving cardinal.

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