Rated R - Running Time: 1:40 - Released 9/10/99

Have you ever had gaping puncture wounds appear in your wrists and feet, whip slashes materialize across your back, and severe thorn scratches show up on your forehead? Well, neither have I, but that's what happens to Patricia Arquette in Stigmata, a Rupert Wainwright film about a very unlucky woman who recieves a gift and lives to regret it. Blending the bloodiest of Christian lore with the most ornate iconography, Wainwright crafts a visually rich film that is intelligent but emotionally dry.

Frankie Paige (Arquette) is not the type one would expect to be a stigmatic. She is an atheist, and only the most devout are susceptible to the unfortunate condition of receiving the stigmata (the five wounds of Christ), according to Father Andrew Kierman, a priest/scientist who works for the Vatican. According to Father Andrew (Gabriel Byrne), who has been assigned to investigate her case, there have been a few instances where extremely pious Christians have actually suffered physically from these five wounds — the hands and feet punctured, the whip marks across the back, the slashes from the crown of thorns, and finally, the wound in the side from the soldier's spear. But ever since she recieved the rosary her mother sent her from Rome, Frankie is prone to violent attacks by unknown forces, bloodying her from head to toe. While Father Andrew is studying her case, the two find an affection for each other that is more than they can pursue, and some startling information surfaces regarding the possible discovery of the Gospel told in Christ's own words.

Although Stigmata (written by Tom Lazarus and Rick Ramage) is a fascinating story, director Wainwright has failed to really get the tension going between his two leads. Arquette and Byrne seem distant; they play their separate parts with honesty but their relationship seems forced. Still the imagery is stunning, and the Lazarus/Ramage script aptly shows the conflict of a non-believer being subjected to not only the pain of physical injury, but the dissolution of her entire belief system.

A number of atmospheric elements employed by Wainwright add to the overall quality of the experience. Constant rain and the sound of water dripping keeps foremost in the mind the flowing blood of Christ; the visual darkness of the film adds a sinister feel. And the pounding of the doves' wings sounds like a Harley convention. Occasionally the Exorcist-type effects seem a bit forced (I don't think Jesus ever suffered the vocal drop and malamute eyes), but overall, the film's tone is effectively disturbing without being over-the-top. ****

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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