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Twenty year old hairdresser Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) leads an ordinary kind of life. A little wild perhaps, but nothing too unusual. One day her mother sends her a gift from her travels in Brazil. A rosary. Suddenly Frankie's ordinary life is turned upside down. Painful wounds begin to appear. The doctors and psychiatrists can't explain what's happening to her. Friends and workmates abandon her. No-one can help until the Vatican sends a special priest, Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) to investigate this Christ mirroring phenomena. But Kiernan is fighting his own battle within the Church.

Borrowing heavily from The Omen and The Exorcist but failing to reach the intensity and believability of those films, Stigmata is the story of Frankie (Patricia Arquette), a faithless hairdresser who experiences sudden and violent attacks of stigmata; the wounds resembling those of Christ. The Vatican sends Father Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne), an expert of such phenomena to investigate, and for good measure, a skeptic (Jonathan Pryce). Both discover the girl is channeling a message that could destroy the good Church.

It's a moody, intentionally shocking film that tends to derail once Patricia Arquette starts rolling her eyes back and speaking in tongues. But it is unique for its look - dull, bleachy grey tones dictate, achieved by skipping a bleaching stage in the developing process, as English director Rupert Wainwright reveals in his commentary. His dedication to colour tones or the lack of them - is made all the more apparent when splashes of blue, green, or blood red hit the screen. It's a nice idea, but Wainwright plays it with a very heavy hand (yet another director employing his music video expertise). Songs from Massive Attack, Billy Corgan, and (in the DVD's music video) a very gothic looking Natalie Imbruglia add a similarly haunting atmosphere.

Deleted scenes offer an alternate introduction to show just how soulless this girl is, and a different conclusion to show a very different relationship between her and Father Kiernan. In the middle are more gruesome scenes of self-mutilation cut from the movie. Divine rites: the story of stigmata, is a small documentary on the mysteries of stigmata.

We learn that there have been over 400 documented cases in the centuries since St Francis of Assisi first experienced it in the 13th century. Interviews with stigmata experts reveal the fakes like Padre Peoh - over the more compelling cases. Patricia Arquette is believable as the not-so-innocent victim, and Gabriel Byrne very much mimics the troubled priest from The Exorcist - even though it wasn't long before he was playing the devil in Arnie's End of Days. Byrne is a magnificently underrated actor, able to convey so many emotions without speaking a word, as the director notes. It's a pity his film doesn't register near as much emotion. Moody atmospherics and hocus pocus just won't cut it.
Shannon J Harvey

Published July 5, 2001

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CAST: Gabriel Byrne, Patricia Arquette, Jonathan Pryce, Nia Long, Rade

DIRECTOR: Rupert Wainwright

RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: June 28, 2001

Animated menus; Audio commentary by Rupert Wainwright; Alternate ending
Deleted scenes; Theatrical trailer; Featurette "Divine Rites - The Story of Stigmata"
Languages: English 5.1, English and German for the hearing impaired. Subtitles in Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Polish, English, German, French, Norwegian, Greek, Hungarian.

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