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The Straits Times Intereactive (Life!)

January 7 2000

An enigma is this Stigmata

1.5 stars


An enigmatic storyline and odd images coupled with plenty of finger-pointing at the Church make this show totally offensive to watch

Now showing

DIRECTOR Rupert Wainwright had better go for confession.

His anti-Vatican horror flick, Stigmata, causes such offence that no amount of printed protest can exorcise this big-screen heresy.

Levelling all kinds of charges at the Catholic Church -- from evil cardinals to obsequious priests to a high-level Vatican conspiracy -- Wainwright's finger-pointing picture is based on nothing in particular, save a two paragraph explanation that is appended to its end (something about the church's rejection of the Gospel of Saint Thomas in 1945).

The director's ire is all the more incomprehensible when his movie is preposterous beyond imagination. To justify the immense amount of gore, self-mutilation and demonic possession in Stigmata, Wainwright chooses -- check this out -- a dead, benevolent Brazilian priest as the movie's supernatural villain.

Given the amount of pain involved in this film, Patricia Arquette is to be commended for her courage. After all, her character experiences stigmata (suffering the same wounds as Jesus Christ at His crucifixion) and goes through the entire movie writhing and squirming in extreme agony as invisible nails are driven through her wrists and legs.

Oh, Arquette's character, Frankie Paige, is a hairdresser, by the way.

How a Pittsburg blow-dryer becomes the target of stigmata is quite beyond anyone, but apparently, Wainwright has no problems with that.

In fact, he does not bat an eyelid when he includes a host of even nuttier features in his movie.

Gabriel Byrne, craggy and hell-bent on looking intense, is cast as a sort of Papal Fox Mulder.

Armed with a pocket tape-recorder and an ultra-large camera (which he always whips out of nowhere whenever he has to photograph strange writings on walls), his Father Andrew Kiernan goes around the world disproving miracles such as statues of the Virgin Mary that weep blood and visions of Christ.

Like Agent Mulder, Father Kiernan barks out scientific mumbo-jumbo like "precipitation" and "optical illusion" whenever he is confronted by these so-called manifestations of God. Until he meets Arquette's seriously-sexy hairdresser, that is.

Most of the time, Wainwright directs Stigamata as if it is The Exorcist or The Omen set to a snarling Smashing Pumpkins score (the music is by Billy Corgan). Gory images, of which there are unnecessarily plenty of, are accompanied by heavy guitars and treated in a pretentious MTV-esque style.

Slow-motion reverse shots of a drop of water smashing down are repeated throughout the film as if that is some sort of a motif. What meaning Wainwright derives from that is again an enigma. Is there something biblical about drops of water? Do they represent the Flood? Never mind.

What tops the list of oddities in Stigmata is the director's treatment of the priest-hairdresser relationship.

One moment, Byrne and Arquette are battling EVIL FORCES (capitals because Wainwright represents evil in equally-loud images like malevolent doves and thundering drops of water). The next, the two are chatting away merrily at a sidewalk cafe, bathed in pastels borrowed seemingly from a romantic comedy.

"Do you know that monks invented alcohol?" Father Kiernan teases.

Frankie, her curly-whirly hair a mad cascade, answers with a tinkling giggle borrowed from Arquette, who is too talented an actress for a movie like Stigmata.

Wainwright, who came to film from Reebok television commercials, is great with visuals. He knows how to make Arquette look demented and EVIL.

He can even do great water drops. 

The Electric New Paper

Another Church vs Satan film?

Jan 7, 2000

WHAT'S HAPPENING TO ME?!: Look who's bleeding all over!

ARNOLD Schwarzenegger's sluggish End of Days didn't quite prove to be the end.

There is Stigmata.

To be fair, the devil doesn't appear here, though Gabriel Byrne, last seen as the unholy one in End of Days, is in it, having switched sides to play a brooding Catholic priest, Father Andrew, who travels around the world to investigate "miracles".

It's no surprise, then, the Vatican, led by the secretive Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce), is neck-deep in conspiracy. Its latest cover-up involves Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette), who develops the stigmata - bleeding wounds on her hands and feet like those suffered by Jesus on the cross.

Frankie, a self-confessed atheist, starts bleeding after her mother sends her a rosary belonging to a dead priest. In swaggers Father Andrew, in the same sexy black outfit from End of Days, except with a white collar.

As Frankie suffers more wounds, she scrawls in Aramaic - the language of Jesus and his disciples - all over her walls. But nothing to worry about, she's only the delivery girl, writing out a lost gospel, which the Vatican wants to suppress.

This film tries to be a cross between The Exorcist and The Seventh Sign, but ends up more "holey" than holy.

Father Andrew never figures out the significance of the rosary.

And the very thought of Frankie being possessed by the spirit of a dead priest goes against all horror movie conventions.

Another nagging question is, why would a dead priest try to tempt a living one?

Perhaps director Rupert Wainwright is too used to shooting frenzied videos for Reebok to pay close attention to the plot.

Byrne and Arquette do the best they can with their undeveloped characters, but are reduced to looking cool amid the gothic sets.

Stigmata doesn't really stand out among the current slew of religious thrillers.

The moody soundtrack by Billy Corgan, of the Smashing Pumpkins, is its saving grace.


Title: Stigmata R(A)
Stars: Gabriel Byrne, Patricia Arquette
Scenario: A hairdresser suffers stigmata wounds, and a priest investigates
Screening: Now showing
Rating: - Moody plot needs a leap of faith Magazine

January 6 2000

This week’s hot opening reviewed by Shyan

Directed by Rupert Wainwright

Starring: Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce, Nia Long, Patrick Muldoon, Portia de Rossi

Movies are often criticised for overplaying sex and violence. Using a religious subject as the theme of the movie always invites controversy and the release of Stigmata is no different.

Months before this movie was scheduled for release here, there were already emails being sent around urging people not to watch the film because it was said to trivialise the role of the church. Despite this, the movie knocked The Sixth Sense off its reign at the top of the box office chart when it was released in the United States.

Hiding A Terrible Secret

Stigmata are the marks resembling the wounds of the crucified Christ, believed to appear on the bodies of certain chosen individuals. It’s a real but unexplainable phenomenon that happens to the devoutly spiritual, though in this case, it mysteriously and painfully afflicts a young woman with no religious affiliations.

Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) is a free-spirited hairdresser who goes through life like many in their 20s – work, play, have fun with not a worry in the world. Her normal life is jolted when strange things start happening to her, things that Frankie cannot understand or explain. She finds herself bleeding from the head, hands and feet or suffering excruciating pains from being whipped by an unknown force. At times, she rants in an ancient language that she could not have possibly learned.

She lands in hospital countless times from wounds that seem to come from nowhere. All the doctors and psychologists cannot provide her with a logical answer. Her relationship with her boyfriend and co-workers suffer as a result of the sudden and violent attacks and the spark of life is dimming from the once vivacious Frankie.

In steps Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne), a Vatican priest but also a man of science who specialises in the investigation of the supernatural and paranormal. Used to the verification of false miracles such as bleeding statues or demonic possession, Kiernan finds his faith as a priest challenged when he recognises immediately that the attacks are religious in origin. As Frankie’s body and soul get overtaken by this mysterious and powerful force, Kiernan has to go beyond his own beliefs to find ways to save Frankie’s life.

Courting Controversy

Playing the priest who is first and foremost a scientist, Byrne excels as the tortured man who must come to terms with his own demons. A man in so much conflict about his overwhelming concern for Frankie versus his role as a priest, Byrne goes through most of the movie with such real pain in his eyes. Arquette, better known as the wife of megastar Nicholas Cage, holds her own here with her convincing portrayal of a once carefree woman totally confused by the changes happening to her.

The movie has its dose of blood and shockers, mostly happening to Frankie. There is a scene that has Frankie speaking in an eerie foreign tongue, floating in mid air in the crucifix position. Another has her writing biblical verses on the wall in ancient characters, seeing with eyes without pupils. Especially now that we have just crossed the turn of the century into the new millennium, the movie may provoke one to reassess what is truth and what is fiction.

Verdict: The Exorcist given a stylistic update. Powerful acting and spine-chilling plot make it an absorbing two hours but those who can’t stand the sight of blood had better think twice.