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Stigmata (1999) – Movie Review


Written by: Tom Lazarus & Rick Ramage
Directed by: Rupert Wainwright
Starring: Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce, Nia Long, Thomas Kopache

My Advice: Wait and Rent It.

Father Kiernan (Byrne) is a man with a problem. He is an investigator for the Vatican, and his job is to go out and debunk religious miracles. Trouble is, whenever he finds one that he is sure is authentic, the case gets shunted somewhere off into the etrick, largely due to the machinations of Cardinal Houseman (Pryce). Frankie (Arquette) is a woman with a problem. She’s a hairdresser who after receiving a gift in the mail from her mother starts to experience the wounds of Christ, AKA the stigmata. Their two paths cross as they try to figure out why this is happening before the wounds are too much and Frankie gets to presumably meet Christ in the hereafter.

[ad#longpost]This was basically Wainwright’s film to screw up. After all, he had two of my favorite underrated character actors in tow, Byrne and Pryce, and a great premise that could have gone straight to hell–no pun intended. Apart from some heavy-handedness towards the end, it’s not a bad little film. Wainwright drives a nice balance between the differing worlds of the two major characters–when we first meet Kiernan, he’s in South America amidst the buzzing atmosphere of a religious funeral procession, and the film acts accordingly. When we first meet Frankie, she’s living her bohemian fast-paced very secular life–and the film acts accordingly there as well, with what’s been termed “MTV” style filmmaking, lots of cuts about, loud music, the usual. It’s when the two meet that the film begins to find its own pace, and strikes a balance between the two types of presentation.

Unfortunately, the film’s own pace is plodding as the mystery unfolds itself. I found myself wanting the payoff to hurry up and get there, as the attacks on Frankie became more and more vicious. A bit of editing or rewriting might have assisted this. What really put it over the top is an ending extremely heavy in symbolism, which is tolerable, but then those symbols are used to smack the audience about the head and shoulders, just in case-*whack*-you didn’t-*whack*-catch them-! I really hate it when that happens.

Byrne is sedate and earnest in his role as the priest, while Arquette does her best to fill out a part that pretty much exists to scribble on walls and get the crap kicked out of her by invisible demons. Pryce places the controlling cardinal well, and Nia Long is the Obligatory Friend, so therefore is not given much to do. The film itself works as a critique of the Catholic Church’s disintegrating stranglehold on faith, and only mildly works as a film which inspires horror. What it mostly works as is a rental. Nice try, but subtlety still is a viable tool.

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