If the Virgin Mary were alive today, pregnant with the Second Coming, what sort of reception might she expect? This is the provocative premise of Deborah Kampmeier's debut feature Virgin, only the heroine merely thinks she's been chosen by God, because she was unconscious when her baby was conceived. Needless to say, there's no room at the inn: Faster than viewers can say "Breaking The Waves," she's ostracized by her family and the townspeople, and subjected to increasingly cruel rounds of degradation. Yet as her due date approaches, her resolve stiffens and she begins to embrace her sacred mission, blissfully unaware that the Almighty will not be officially sanctioning any transcendence she happens to experience.
Played by Elisabeth Moss (of TV's The West Wing), the eponymous 17-year-old misfit isn't a religious figure so much as a feminist icon, victimized by a patriarchal society that abuses and oppresses her, denying her a seat at the spiritual table. Kampmeier's refusal to take Christian tenets seriously separates Virgin from other reputedly blasphemous contemporary films like The Last Temptation Of Christ and The Rapture, which at least gathered enough respect for faith to mount an honest challenge. Shot on shaky-cam digital video, filtered through what appears to be an old sweatsock, the film mimics Dogme-style realism in its vision of modern persecution, but in the end, it offers the sort of touchy-feely mysticism that belongs to the crystal-ball and tarot-reading set.
Moss is an outcast in an unnamed blue-collar town; her eventual banishment from family and community life doesn't represent much of a change from the norm. First seen paying a seedy stranger to buy her a bottle of whiskey, Moss chases her boredom by smoking, drinking, and driving around on a late-night route delivering newspapers. One boozy night during the school dance, she ends up alone in the woods with a local crush (Charles Socarides), but when her inhibitions get in the way, he slips her a date-rape drug and takes advantage of her. She wakes up the next morning convinced that she's undergone Immaculate Conception, but the news fails to inspire family members, including her deeply religious father (Peter Gerety) and sister (Stephanie Gatschet), and her alcoholic mother (Robin Wright Penn).
A truly courageous movie might have taken Moss' character at her word and followed through on the premise of a 21st-century Virgin Mary, but Kampmeier probably shouldn't be trusted with religious imagery. Recurring shots of birds flocking on Moss' outstretched body or a homeless Hispanic woman ranting vague prophecies are just the tip of the mystical iceberg. When it comes time for the real transcendence to start, Kampmeier throws in water lapping in slow motion, a miracle birth, and two circles of naked pagans holding hands. Coming soon to a New Age bookstore near you…