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Stigmata Review

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★★★★★

Devout Catholics probably have better things to do than get pissed off by a daft neo-noir, post-punk Exorcist wannabe, in which Vatican conspirators do their worst to silence a hapless hairdresser who gets possessed and bleeds like a stuck pig while babbling dogma-threatening heresy. But those of us who like our mystical thrillers to make some semblance of sense should get righteously irked.

In time-worn fashion, the film flits from a dusty Third World prologue in which a priest who looks like a gargoyle deciphers ancient script and feverishly clutches his rosary, to Pittsburgh (!) where a swaggering Frankie (Arquette) makes the scene with an, "I love being me" tude. Frankie's an atheist, but her vacationing mum happens through the dead mystery padre's backlot and mails her the holy man's stolen rosary as a cute souvenir.

Cue bafflement and gross-out horror as Frankie - who thinks it's a necklace, duh - promptly suffers torturous fits and manifests Christ's crucifixion wounds; gee, levitating, bleeding and shrieking a dead dialect in public plays hell with a girl's social life. But it also brings her to the dangerous attention of a Vatican VIP guarding a dark secret, malevolent Cardinal Houseman (Pryce), who dispatches miracle-buster/scientist/priest investigator Father Andrew Kiernan (Byrne) to scope it out and brave spectacular demonic attacks from a mean wind machine.

Two counts in its favour: visual interest is strong, with strip bleaching enhancing the spooky look, although commercials vet Wainwright over-does the fitful MTV style. And Byrne has real presence as the man of reason and faith struggling to reconcile the two while saving Frankie from fiend, foe and FX co-ordinator. The whole show falls down, though, on its irreparably faulty premise - if Frankie is God's chosen messenger (however unlikely that is) and she is possessed by a saint, why is her experience so painfully vile? Full of holes and, "Oh, come now!" turns, this would be best suited to 14 year-old X-file fans, were it not for the 18 certificate gore.

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