Stigmata is part of a noble tradition of movies that exploit religious imagery for a cheap thrill. Whether it’s End of Days, Drag Me to Hell, The Devil’s Advocate, or hundreds of other similar films, the haunting music and blurry shots of crucifixes are a horror staple.
As formulaic Jesus Creepers go, Stigmata is one of the better ones, certainly the superior of those I’ve just mentioned. Yes it’s unoriginal, but it also has several genuinely creepy moments, and a pair of decent characters to anchor it in the form of hairdresser and “self-confessed” atheist Frankie (Patricia Arquette) and the sexiest priest since Montgomery Clift in I Confess, Father Andrew Keirnan (Gabriel Byrne).
When Frankie gets given some rosary beads from a recently deceased priest, she starts having strange fits resulting in horrific injuries similar to those supposedly sustained by Jesus. True to the Bible, the supernatural tries to communicate with the human race through vague, scary imagery rather than talking directly. The spirit that’s possessing Frankie seems intent on making her lose her apartment’s damage deposit, as in addition to the spattered blood, her possession results in her getting a leaky roof and doves in her house.
Father Keirnan is an ex scientist who spends his days investigating miraculous claims with forensic scrutiny. The idea that the Catholic Church employs rigorous investigative techniques to debunk claims of unexplained peculiarity is one of the most far fetched things in this film, but the character works ok regardless.
There’s more explanation here than some, and it doesn’t just throw creepy incidents at the screen and hope for the best. This is welcome in and of itself, even if it does fall in the trap of being critical of the Catholic Church while accepting its overriding theology. This is an effective if unremarkable Scary Mary flick which delivers the goods.