Stigmata follows young Pittsburgh hairdresser Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) as she begins to suffer from wounds mimicking those endured by Christ during his crucifixion. While the Vatican’s lead investigator, Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne), is at first sceptical of the authenticity of Frankie’s wounds, he soon discovers that she is in fact the messenger of a controversial gospel that will shake the foundations of the Catholic Church.
The film opens on a South East Brazilian landscape as the sun sets in the background. The streets are filled with crowds of worshippers, mournfully lamenting the death of their local priest, as church bells ring in the distance. A group of mourners dressed in white carry a life-size Jesus on a cross as if in a funeral procession. Inside the church, there is immediately an eerie atmosphere as the camera closes in on a statue of Mother Mary crying tears of blood. The opening of the film contrasts greatly with the title credits which displays a distinctive 90s vibe, as we see a young hairdresser contemplating a fast-paced city, thus setting the tone for the rest of the film- the contradiction between Frankie’s modern lifestyle and the religious roots of stigmata.
The battle between science versus religion is an underlying motif of the film. Father Tiernan’s internal conflict of distinguishing himself as a scientist or a priest rears its head, as he struggles to find answers to make sense of Frankie’s condition. The distinction between these two institutions is exemplified through a montage depicting medical tests being carried out on Frankie, inter-cut with Father Tiernan giving Holy Communion. A stark lighting scheme contrasts the warm glow and safety of the church, with the electric, cold blues of Frankie’s apartment, thus complicating the audiences’ presumptions of which side the evil is coming from.
What’s interesting about this film in comparison to more recent possession or exorcism films, is the science behind it: the reasoning behind the stigmata. There is no quick-draw action plan once Father Tiernan arrives in Pittsburgh to investigate Frankie’s injuries. The film mainly focuses on the two characters developing a rapport, and waiting to see how the events unfold and making sense of it all. There are no guidelines for this kind of psychological driven horror, with its unfamiliar story and pace, making it all the more refreshing to watch 17 years after its release.
The horror in Stigmata stems from its basis on religion, and the events which take place where there is real no satisfaction with scientific explanation, as many characters allude to in the film. While the film is not as frightening as it was when I watched it 10 years ago, it still benefits from those jump-out-of-your seat moments, with the sudden attacks on Frankie which seem to appear when you least expect them. Thanks to the almost blinding, flashy cinematography, and the techno- new age score by Smashing Pumpkins’ front man Billy Corgan and Elia Cmiral, Stigmata defies you to become complacent as this mysterious horror unfolds.
Dir: Rupert Wainwright
Scr: Tom Lazarus and Rick Ramage
Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Patricia Arquette, Jonathan Pryce
Prd: Frank Mancuso Jr.
DOP: Jeffrey L. Kimball
Music: Billy Corgan, Elia Cmiral
Runtime: 103 mins
Stigmata will be available on Blu-Ray for the first time in the UK on 17th October 2016.