Review by Greg King
3 stars out of 4
It's rare to find a spooky religious thriller that is also
quite intelligent and doesn't lose the plot amidst a welter of
meaningless effects and nonsense. Admittedly, Stigmata is often
reminiscent of earlier films like The Exorcist, The Omen and the
risible Demi Moore thriller The Seventh Sign, but this thriller about
possession is grounded in some solid concepts and ideas that push the
material in different directions.
Although primarily a supernatural thriller, Stigmata also
deals with themes of organised religion versus true faith, and is
shaped by some in-depth research into the Bible and Biblical history.
It also explores internal politics and corruption within the Vatican,
where cliques of ambitious priests have built their own solid power
base. But these potentially contentious and worthwhile ideas are
occasionally let down by some cliched, Exorcist inspired touches,
such as possessed people speaking in strange voices, levitation,
spontaneously moving furniture, etc.
Gabriel Byrne (recently seen as the devil in End Of Days)
plays Father Andrew Kiernan, a Vatican priest with a scientific
background, who travels the world disproving so-called miracles. He
is sent to Pittsburgh to handle the case of a young woman who is
reportedly afflicted with "stigmata" - unexplained, bloody marks
corresponding with the wounds suffered by Christ on the cross.
Frankie (Patricia Arquette, from True Romance, etc) is a young
hairdresser, who is not particularly religious, and who is bewildered
and scared by the mysterious events that have suddenly haunted her.
Kiernan discovers that she is possessed by the spirit of a devout
South American priest who recently died. But there are some within
the church who would rather silence Frankie than have what she
represents revealed to the world. Kiernan finds his own beliefs
tested by helping Frankie.
In a physically demanding role, Arquette is superb, capturing
both a vulnerability and inner strength that grounds her performance
in reality. Byrne is also very good, and he gives a much more
intelligent and restrained performance here than in End Of Days.
British-born director Rupert Wainwright (the bland Disney
comedy Blank Check, etc) hails from a background in commercials and
music videos, and these origins are evident in the distinctive and
stylish visuals and overall production design. Especially striking is
the opening credit sequence, which combines the back story to Stigmata
with eerie visuals, and which has become almost commonplace now
through films like Seven, Resurrection and End Of Days, etc.
The film is also heavily drenched in symbolism - dripping
water, fire, blood, breaking glass, and flying doves - all filmed in
slow motion and close up, and accompanied by an evocative music score
by Billy Corgan, from The Smashing Pumpkins. Jeffrey Kimball's
cinematography is also beautifully moody and adds to the edgy quality
of this effective and surprisingly entertaining horror thriller.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King