Are You With Us? Stigmata

By Ryan Mazie

September 10, 2012

This wasn't even the worst thing that happened to her. She was married to Nic Cage.

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I think the filmmakers of the religious-themed horror Stigmata were looking towards the wrong Madonna when seeking direction on their film. Edited together like a pop video on MTV by a cokehead, the hyper-kinetic visuals with the ‘90s alt soundtrack leave Stigmata bleeding all over the place with a script the equivalent of a tissue to clean up the mess.

Let’s start off with the basics. Stigmata opens (like all of these Exorcist-knockoffs do) in a third-world setting (this time Brazil) within a deeply religious community. Vatican paranormal debunker Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) is sent to investigate a stone statue of the Virgin Mary bleeding from its eyes - human blood. Then we cut to halfway around the world in New York City, where hair stylist Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) comes in possession with the rosary of the father of the Brazilian village via a gift from her vacationing mother.

It’s only shortly later that Frankie starts bleeding from her wrists, ankles, and head, in the same spots where Christ was nailed onto the cross. Of course, Father Kiernan finds Frankie (we never quite understand how he makes the connection that she became in possession of the rosary) and tries to scientifically explain the phenomenon. However, once Frankie starts showing signs of demonic possession, windows shatter, and hallucinations become reality, it is quite clear that there is nothing that can be explained away with science.

I was quite surprised how little the film knows about the stigmata. While one does bleed with wounds identical to those of Christ, demonic possession via the transference of objects and hallucinations are not part of the stigmata belief whatsoever. Then, the filmmakers have the audacity to have a title card at the end of the film, implying that the story is inspired by true events. How can it be true when they don’t even know what stigmata is?! The Possession would be a better title for the film (which has been claimed by this summer’s Exorcist wannabe with a Jewish twist), but I guess Stigmata sounded cooler.

A truly dopey horror film that is scary thanks to loud noises and quick-cutting images rather than intensity, there is less fun to be had than expected.

Director Rupert Wainwright (who unsurprisingly got his start in directing music videos like “Straight Outta Compton” and “U Can’t Touch This”) does a slapdash effort in terms of pacing and developing a time frame. Wainwright does a good job at creating chaos, though. There is a fairly tense subway scene and the sequences of demonic possession that are captivating.


Unnecessarily blatant, Wainwright uses a lot of over-laying images to show how Frankie’s cuts are identical to those of Christ’s on the cross. While visually stimulating, I found myself taken out of the moment by the added gloss. Aspiring music video editors and cinematographers might want to take a look at Stigmata, but you need more than eye candy used in music videos to make a feature film work (Stigmata drags at nearly an hour and forty minutes).

Patricia Arquette seems almost anesthetized as Frankie. Sure, she screams and runs around frantically, but there is never a real register of emotions. Maybe it is the constant quick cut editing that the camera pans away to quick, to get a big facial reaction, but she just comes off as blasé. However, Gabriel Byrne is not much better, appearing as if he cannot wait to get off set to cash his paycheck and wash his hands of this forgettable film.

The highlight performance belongs to Nia Long as the stereotypical sassy best friend. Long seems to enjoy herself, being one of the film’s few likable characters, even though the script makes her as dumb as a brick (if my best friend had stigmata and was hallucinating, hitting the clubs with her wouldn’t be on the top of my list of activities…).

Scripted by no one distinguished, Stigmata is another tired-and-true devil possession tale that seems to seize audiences on a yearly basis. Only the style of the picture changes throughout the years. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Stigmata made today, but under the “found footage” concept (ie. The Devil Inside, The Last Exorcism). However, like most of its predecessors and successors, Stigmata is a total dud.

Budgeted at a higher than expected $30 million (I am not sure where the money went to. To cut down costs, the near deadly subway scene recycled some of the exterior shots of the train coming off the tracks from the 1995 release, Money Train), Stigmata turned things around slightly for MGM who floundered with the teen-aimed horrors The Rage: Carrie 2 and Disturbing Behavior.

Stigmata topped the box office with $18.3 million, ending The Sixth Sense’s five-week reign at #1 (Kevin Bacon’s horror flick Stir of Echoes came in at #3). Stigmata finished its run with $50 million ($79 million adjusted), along with an additional $40 million coming in from overseas.

I love a good horror movie, or at least a scary movie that acknowledges its own stupidity. Stigmata refuses to accept itself as being silly, making the plot overloaded with eye-rolling drama that is simply shrugged off a scene later when a goofy demonic attack occurs.

Probably only scary to hemophobics, Stigmata is a bloody mess. I couldn’t help but feel as if the director used heavy editing to bandage-up the plot, but only a half hour in, Stigmata starts looking pale.

Verdict: Not With Us
3 out of 10



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