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1 item from 1999

Film review: 'Stigmata'

10 September 1999 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Possessed, at least thematically, by the spirit of "The Exorcist", Rupert Wainwright's "Stigmata" is an artsy, pretentious supernatural thriller that is much more concerned with candle-flickering style over any involving substance.

Patricia Arquette is the stigmatic in question -- a sassy young Pittsburgh hairdresser who undergoes terrible ordeals after receiving a gift package from Brazil that happens to include the rosary stolen from a dead priest.

Despite all the obligatory blood-letting, there is no satisfactory building of suspense or tension, let alone a sufficient degree of audience identification with the central victim. Other characters are introduced, then abruptly disappear without explanation.

Itself bearing the stigma of going up against the still red-hot "The Sixth Sense" -- not to mention fellow debuting thriller "Stir of Echoes" -- this MGM release hasn't much of a prayer at the boxoffice.

When Arquette's 23-year-old Frankie Paige (Frankie -- Francis of Assisi, get it?) succumbs to those paranormal attacks, her case comes to the attention of the Rev. Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne), a Vatican-based priest and investigator whose job as a member of the Church's Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints is to document unexplained phenomena and to debunk false miracles. He's sort of like an ecclesiastical Fox Mulder. Call it "The Excommunication Files".

Naturally, he finds more than he bargained for with nonbeliever Frankie, who not only is given to bleeding profusely from very significant points of her body but has developed a facility for speaking and writing in Aramaic.

To further complicate matters, he naturally finds himself fighting an attraction to her; while his superior, the high-ranking Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce) seems very anxious to remove him from the case.

Ironically, given the title, "Stigmata" seldom manages to get under the skin. While the script, penned by Tom Lazarus and Rick Ramage, has an interesting character in Kiernan's clergyman detective, director Wainwright never takes the necessary time to build from a foundation of credibility. We don't get to see enough of Frankie's pre-stigmatized life to feel sufficiently for her plight.

Instead, the ghosts of Wainwright's music video directing past surface in the form of oodles of stylistic flourishes -- slo-mo, flapping birds, dripping water, spurting blood, blazing flames -- intercut with all that religious iconography. It at least all looks impressive, with the picture making good use of its grimy Pittsburgh backdrop.

While the dialogue doesn't serve them particularly well, Arquette and Byrne nevertheless manage to put in credible performances. So do production designer Waldemar Kalinowski ("Leaving Las Vegas"), who must have been given a generous candle budget, and Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan, who contributed much of the nerve-jangling music.

It still begs the question: Where's Linda Blair when you really need her?



An FGM Entertainment production

A Rupert Wainwright film

Director: Rupert Wainwright

Screenwriters: Tom Lazarus and Rick Ramage

Story: Tom Lazarus

Producer: Frank Mancuso Jr.

Director of photography: Jeffrey L. Kimball

Production designer: Waldemar Kalinowski

Editors: Michael R. Miller, Michael J. Duthie

Costume designer: Louise Frogley

Music: Billy Corgan and Elia Cmiral

Make-up effects supervisor: Ve Neill

Casting: Wendy Kurtzman



Frankie Paige: Patricia Arquette

Rev. Andrew Kiernan: Gabriel Byrne

Cardinal Houseman: Jonathan Pryce

Donna: Nia Long

Jennifer: Portia de Rossi

Petrocelli: Rade Sherbedgia

Rev. Dario: Enrico Colantoni

Running time -- 102 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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