Sunday, 26 September 2010

Retro review: Stigmata 2000

A film review by Roger Crow

United States, 1999
UK Release Date: 21 January 2000
Running Length: 1:42
BBFC Classification: 18 (Blood, mature themes, swearing, blink-and-you'll-miss it sex & nudity, annoying editing)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Cast: Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce, Nia Long, Dick Latessa, Portia de Rossi, Patrick Muldoon, Rade Sherbedgia (bless you!)
Director: Rupert Wainwright
Producer: Frank Mancuso Jr.
Screenplay: Tom Lazarus
Cinematography: Jeffrey L Kimball
Music: Billy Corgan and Elia Cmiral
UK Distributor: MGM

Warning: This review contains spoilers.

Stanley Kubrick once said that all you need to make good movie are six non-submersible units. In a nutshell, six scenes that stick in the mind long after the closing credits have rolled and can stand up to the most severe criticism.

Stigmata, the latest pre-millennial thriller - released in the UK in the third week of the 21st century - has trouble in achieving one NSU. The reasons for this seem to be down to a number of factors.

British director Rupert Wainwright, the man behind laugh-free comedy Blank Cheque and The Sadness of Sex, seems to be suffering a few personal demons of his own.

They may be talking in corporate tongues which say: "We want to appeal to the video generation but at the same time keeping the older set happy with a conventional religious-based mystery".

So what we have is the camera staying still for very little time, irrelevant close ups of dictaphones being placed on the table, ashtrays and the like, none of which furthers the drama and after a while, becomes downright irritating. But that's small beer compared to the other over-the-top references to birds, dripping water, bleeding statues and the wounds of Christ which are inflicted on Philadelphia hairdresser Patricia Arquette.

When Pat starts bleeding from the eyes you get an obvious flash of the statue we have seen through the rest of the movie experiencing the same thing.

Apparently, the editor thinks he's dealing with an audience so stupid they're not going to understand what happened a few minutes earlier.

Subtlety doesn't seem to be a word in our film-makers' dictionary.

There's also very little suspense here - one of the cheapest commodities to attain in a movie and easily one of the most effective in such a thriller. Instead we have some over the top scenes where people don't just fall over. They take huge amounts of household items with them: Lights, crockery that sort of thing. Anything that makes a loud noise and looks catastrophic.

As with Gabriel Byrne who played the devil in Peter Hyams' decidedly average End of Days (1999), Pat Arquette seems to be flavour of the month at the moment playing the equally troubled New Yorker in Martin Scorsese's far superior Bringing Out The Dead (1999).

She's a likeable enough actress of limited range and works well with charming co-star Byrne. However, both actors are limited by Tom Lazarus' script.

There's clearly been a fair amount of research done into stigmatics, all of which grounds the movie in its much-needed reality.

The drama opens in Brazil where priest and scientist Gabriel Byrne investigates a bleeding statue in a church where an old preist has been laid to rest. A crucifix from the deceased has been stolen by a young boy and sold to a tourist - our heroine's mother.
As we can tell by the opening titles, Arquette is not the sort of character to live her life according to good Christian values. She loves casual sex and a good time while downing a few beers on a Friday night. Let's face it, given the chance, who doesn't? She is an atheist which causes something of a problem for priest Byrne when he is sent to investigate as stigmatics are usually deeply religious.

Blood soon starts pouring from the puncture marks in her wrists and after an incident on a underground train, it becomes apparent that more than just hospital treatment is needed to tend to her wounds.

Having being whipped across the back by an invisible assailant, her plight is witnessed by both a priest and a handy security camera, the footage of which ends up at the Vatican where shifty head honcho Jonathan Pryce is keen to investigate.

Pryce, as he proved with Tomorrow Never Dies, is just far to nice to play a villain, so it seems a shame that casting agents keep using him as such.

Back to the plot and Byrne becomes personally involved with the photogenic snipper. He's more than a little intrigued when she starts speaking in tongues, levitating and carving ancient text onto the bonnets of cars with a broken bottle.

And so it goes. The Vatican get wind of a yawnsome plot involving an alternate version of the Bible and Pryce arrives in Philadelphia to kill Arquette.

Can Byrne get there in time?
Will this end in time for you to make it down the pub for last orders?

Thankfully yes to both of those counts as this is just the right length for what slender material there is.

At the end of the day, it's just raking over the same territory as The Exorcist: Innocent heroine is possessed by ancient forces; medical science is hopeless in finding a cure; the church steps in; demon is exorcised; cue happy ending.

If you can stand that irritating editing and the gaping plot holes then Stigmata is not bad entertainment however there are many nagging things which stick in the mind such as:

How can a hairdresser afford such an opulent apartment? Did her mum pay for it? Did she win the lottery?

Why doesn't the kid who stole the crucifix in the first place become possessed by the soul of the dead priest or does the dead preiest's spirit have a think for phillies from Philly?

And what happens to Jonathan Pryce's character after he's caught trying to strangle our posessed heroine?

You're not going to wake up in the middle of the night pondering such questions but it would have been nice to see such little irritants explained. That and a little more tension would have made this a worthwhile experience instead of just eye candy with some good actors going through the motions.

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