Tuesday, 18 October 2016


stigmata follows frankie page (patricia arquette), a young woman enjoying her free and single life in pittsburgh when she is assaulted by nightmarish visions and mysterious wounds on her wrists. a scientist from the vatican, andrew kiernan (gabriel byrne), is tasked with establishing whether frankie has a genuine case of stigmata or something else. what neither of them realise is that frankie’s affliction is linked to a secret that has the potential to tear the catholic church apart.

the structure of stigmata mirrors the exorcist in so much as the victim, frankie, first subjects herself to a barrage of medical tests before seeking help from the church. the story then becomes a battle between byrne's troubled priest and the entity possessing frankie, and though she is more mobile than linda blair we are still never too far from a bed. however, there is much more to stigmata than a reboot of a controversial classic.

although the film tries to focus on andrew's story (as in he is the character with the most defined arc - a priest who must recover his lost faith in order to save the woman he loves) i think frankie is the most interesting thing about it, and it's her character who raises the most questions. firstly, and perhaps most importantly, why her? there is a plot reason to explain why frankie is targeted, in that her mother sends her a rosary as a souvenir unaware that it had been torn from the hands of a dead priest, but what is the narrative reason? much is made of frankie’s lifestyle – the opening titles show her partying with friends, having sex, drinking, smoking and while she doesn’t get to have sex again (despite spending most of the film in bed) cigarettes and alcohol are recurring visual indicators that this is more than basic character background. ultimately, it’s hard not to watch this film without thinking that frankie is being punished for her chosen lifestyle. so the next question is, does the film concur with this punishment or is it a comment on how our society punishes independent women?

two other recurring ideas play into this. one is pregnancy, which frankie initially thinks is the cause of her problems. it’s not explicit but it is implied that this is something she wants, which undermines her seemingly carefree existence. the second is a cancer parallel that is suggested visually when frankie starts to wear a bandana to cover the wounds on her head, as well as by the constant close-ups of cigarettes being lit and extinguished. both ideas have the same implication – there is a deadline; a time limit and at 23 frankie is apparently coming to the end of her allotted free time. again, whether this is a problematic depiction of a young female character or a depressing comment on the way society keeps its women down is really up to the viewer (i'm still undecided, in case you were wondering).

the true plot of stigmata is difficult to go into without giving it away, and there is a neat if predictable twist in the story towards the end. what struck me watching it now are the parallels between possession, demonic or otherwise, and having your social media account hacked. stay with me here, but at a certain point frankie, who appears to look like herself, begins to speak with the voice of another. i’ve had my twitter account hacked a couple of times in the past and the effect is kind of the same – it’s my picture on the profile but not my words. of course, i am slightly obsessed with online profiles right now so i’m obviously bringing my own baggage to this (check out my most recent video for proof) but it’s also really interesting to see how a film from 1999 can be relevant to social and technical developments that didn’t exist when it was made. behind the victimisation of a woman who was doing just fine on her own, this is a film about messages and interpretation – ideas which are more important now than they ever were.

overall i think stigmata is a really interesting film – much more interesting than it was given credit for when it was released. on top of that, arquette and byrne are both great in it and there’s some nostalgia to be enjoyed from the 90s visual style and soundtrack. the blu-ray comes with some fascinating extras including a documentary from the time and an alternate ending that actually makes frankie’s journey seem so much worse in comparison to the original cut. definitely a film worth seeing and an interesting one to revisit if you’ve already seen it because for me there was certainly more to talk about than i remembered.

stigmata is available now from eureka entertainment on blu-ray for the first time in the uk in a dual format edition

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