Stigmata (1999)

RUPERT WAINWRIGHT

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BB

USA, 1999.  , FGM Entertainment.  Story by , Screenplay by Tom Lazarus, .  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by , .  

As with other ‘spiritual thrillers’ of its kind, this one treats religion like a carnival ride. Unwitting victim Patricia Arquette receives a mysterious South American necklace from her vacationing mother, and suddenly starts having attacks that resemble the Catholic affliction of Stigmata, where a spiritually conflicted person starts bleeding at the feet and hands the way Christ did when he was crucified. Why me? she asks, I don’t even go to church. The wounds and personality transfers that she undergoes eventually reveal information leading to a suppressed text that is supposedly the very words of Christ, a text so volatile that it threatens many of the fundamental doctrines of present-day Christianity. The film takes on more than it can handle, and in the end abandons most of the issues it brings up and gives its audience a silly, perfectly pat ending. Arquette is flimsy in the lead role, and Gabriel Byrne looks foolish as the unhappy priest who tries to help her (and oh my doesn’t he have a tough time trying not to fall in love with her). As is also a major flaw in this genre of filmmaking, the spiritual menace that befalls the character arrives in the form of an object (in this case a necklace), something outside the person instead of inside them, so they’re never really forced to examine any important issues about themselves, only to remove the plot mechanism and finish the story. Something like The Third Miracle, which examines the shortcomings of people’s faith, and therefore their inner selves, is much more effective and memorable. Whatever its shortcomings are in this regard, Stigmata also suffers from a lack of an interesting or even cohesive story: one sequence involving Arquette’s hallucination is never really explained, and the last-minute introduction of a villainous priest is laughable.

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