- Patricia Arquette as Frankie Page
- Gabriel Byrne as Father Andrew Kiernan
- Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Daniel Houseman
- Nia Long as Donna
A cross between a horror with heavy religious overtones and a thriller questioning the teachings of Catholicism, Stigmata emerges as a flashy, creepy film filled with striking imagery and thumping soundtrack. Yes, there may be inconsistencies and a few flaws, but Stigmata on the whole generally effective and disquieting for most of its duration that leaves with a few questions.
Frankie Page is a nonchalant party girl and hairdresser in Pittsburgh. She is the kind of person who lives for the moment. Yet after she receives a gift of rosary beads from her mother, she experiences the first of the five wounds of stigmata, which are the wounds suffered by Christ on the crucifix. This unexplained phenomena appears to have occurred because of the arrival of the beads, which belonged to a devout and recently deceased priest. Terrified by this, Frankie doesn’t know what to do and how to escape. Father Andrew Kiernan, a recently ordained priest who also has history in science and travels the world debunking supposed holy miracles, is sent to investigate the unusual case. It is interesting that he should be sent because he was present at the church were the original owner of the rosary beads died and a statue of the Virgin Mary begin to weep blood. One he arrives in Pittsburgh, he is initially dismissive because Frankie is an atheist and most stigmatics are deeply religious people of immense faith. Yet as Andrew digs deeper into the case and Frankie’s condition worsens with every injury inflicted, complete with some sort of possession that talks in a dead language not used for centuries, he sees that Frankie is actually channeling something much more dangerous and questionable. These findings could have dark implications for the church and shake their very foundations to the core. And while Andrew is somewhat more open-minded with his beliefs and is a lot more concerned with saving Frankie’s life, his superior Cardinal Daniel Houseman, is prepared to resort to the darkest acts in order to keep these findings from being revealed.
I’ve read that upon release Stigmata was lambasted by critics as being a shallow, style over substance and exploitative film. I personally think that those criticisms are more than a little harsh, though sometimes the style does overpower the story. But what style and imagery it is with scenes overlapping, slickly executed cut backs and forth and religious liturgy taking centre stage in a style reminiscent of a music video. At least Stigmata still has a story that pushes many buttons on an interest level to back up such strong visual impact. And though Stigmata is very much a horror film that can be very unnerving, clearly witnessed in the harrowing scenes of Frankie suffering the titular injuries in gruesome detail, there is a mystery angle about the history of religion and there possibly being something else to say. It must be said that there are inconsistencies with this and sometimes it comes off as a bit illogical, but for me the mystery angle didn’t buckle under these flaws and did leave me questioning things. An unusual but highly appropriate score and soundtrack combine electronic beats, hard rock and whispering chorus to capture the melding of ancient religion with a contemporary host.
Patricia Arquette is an excellent choice for the role of Frankie. Bringing in the beginning a humour and no cares attitude to her as she parties a lot, she successfully incorporates a sense of disbelief, pain and vulnerability once Frankie becomes afflicted with Stigmata. The part is made all the better because of Arquette being in the role and making Frankie a sympathetic character going through unimaginable horror. Gabriel Byrne is well cast as Father Andrew, whose history as a scientist often clashes with the more spiritual around him. There is a sense of grave concern that Byrne invokes Andrew with as his main concern becomes saving Frankie from death as the wounds get worse and her health declines. Jonathan Pryce brings authoritative menace to the part of the corrupt cardinal intent on keeping the message from Frankie deeply buried away from anyone. Nia Long, on the other hand, is wasted as one of Frankie’s friends.
So if you can forgive a few lulls and inconsistencies, Stigmata is an eerie, stylish horror/thriller.