Reviews   by Alan Jones
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selected from Starburst #258

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Patricia Arquette suffers for her art in Stigmata
Stigmata
Released
America – Sept 1999
Britain – Jan 21 2000
Starburst Rating 4 out of 10

Stigmata picture
copyright UIP
Feature © Visual Imagination 2000. Not for reproduction

103 mins • Cert R / 18

Cast
Patricia Arquette
Gabriel Byrne
Jonathan Pryce
Nia Long
Thomas Kopache
Rada Sherbedgia
Enrico Colantoni
Dick Latessa
Portia de Rossi

Production
Producer •
Frank Mancuso Jr
Director •
Rupert Wainwright
Screenplay •
Tom Lazarus, Rick Ramage
Music •
Billy Corgan, Elia Cmiral, Mike Garson
Special make-up effects supervisor •
Ve Neill
Feature © Visual Imagination 2000. Not for reproduction

Ever wondered what The Exorcist would look like done as an elongated rock video? Well, wonder no more because former experimental theatre director Rupert Wainwright takes exactly that now redundant MTV approach in this terminally silly possession thriller.

With steady streams of religious mumbo-jumbo flowing along with the frequent spurts of holy blood, Wainwright drenches everything in over-done hyper-kinetic style and the result is as empty-headed as the hairdresser character poor old Patricia Arquette tries to bring some semblance of reality to amongst the ridiculously po-faced events.

She plays Pittsburgh party girl Frankie Page who receives a rosary in the post as a souvenir of her mother’s trip to the nether regions of Brazil. The artefact belonged to a local priest who recently died and who seems to be responsible for a spate of strange phenomena in the region like a blood-weeping Virgin Mary statue in the ancient church.

Before you can mutter Exorcist II: The Heretic, Frankie starts experiencing weird visions and spooky seizures that leave her with a succession of wounds imitating the ones Christ suffered during his crucifixion. What’s going on? Not a lot actually as the dead priest, through his supernatural manipulation of Frankie, is only drawing attention to a secret gospel, supposedly written by Jesus himself, that the Catholic church are desperate to cover up in case it turns out to be authentic and undermines their questionable authority.

To that end ‘miracle buster’ Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) had been sent to expose the Virgin Mary marvel which, to his mildly agnostic puzzlement, he can’t and then he gets assigned to Frankie’s case where he begins to tie up the clues, realizes the powerful forces at work and recognizes the true danger of her paranormal affliction.

Not helping matters is the growing sexual attraction Kiernan feels towards Frankie and the sinister actions of Vatican chief Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce) who will stop at nothing to quash all reference to the sacred document at the root of all the trouble. An anti-climactic, fiery and convoluted finale rounds off Wainwright’s cat-walk chiller in the fashion layout manner in which it began.

Heavier on dance club atmosphere than common sense, Stigmata plugs its gaps in logic with a busy pace and senseless violence. Such nightmare scenes as Frankie being whipped by an unseen spirit in a subway carriage and having nails hammered through her wrists do alleviate the talky tedium somewhat, but there’s never one moment where any of the frenetic flagellation and sacrilegious splatter, or even the dark conspiracy behind it, seems remotely believable. For a movie that ‘borrows’ its entire template from The Exorcist (opening Third World prologue, Frankie’s medical testing, Kiernan’s shaken faith), you’d think some of its classic spine-tingling menace would stick by association.

But it doesn’t because Wainwright’s contemporary communion of the Gothic and the go-go isn’t a smart enough vision to pull off this mix of Christian myth, Catholic tradition and the inner workings of the Church. In many ways Stigmata reminded me of one of those late Sixties Eurotrash epics which you always knew were going to be bad when you saw the credit box on the poster saying something like ‘And also starring Rod Steiger as The Pope’. Wainwright’s determination to give his unintentionally funny demonic freak-out a hip sheen actually makes it feel more old-fashioned than ever. Stinkmata more like.

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