Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) has absolutely no faith in God. All of that changes when she suddenly begins to suffer the Stigmata - the living wounds of the crucified Christ. Frankie's miraculous bleeding comes to the attention of the Vatican's top investigator, Father Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne). But when Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce), discovers that Frankie is actually channeling an extraordinary and provacative message that could destroy the Church, he's convinced that she - and the force possessing her - must be forever silenced. Determined to stop this deadly conspiracy, Kiernan risks his faith - and his life - to save her and the message that will change the destiny of mankind forever.
"I'm an old blind man in a cave looking for a candle that was lit two thousand years ago."
Films centered around religion are nothing new. As soon as someone picked up the first motion picture camera, independent studios and later the big Hollywood houses were churning out religious themed content. It was relatively easy to produce, had a built in audience, and no one needed to pay residuals to the author. From big scale epics like 'The Ten Commandments' to horror pictures like 'The Exorcist,' God has offered up numerous hours of quality entertainment. Unfortunately great films spawn inferior imitators. A film like 'Stigmata' may not quite be the work of the Devil, but it ain't no saint.
Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) is a devout Catholic - he's also the Vatican's lead scientific investigator. Any time a supposed "miracle" occurs, the Vatican sends Kiernan to investigate using the scientific method to either prove or disprove the phenomena. More often than not, these occurrences are little more than hoaxes, stains on walls, or a case of mass hysteria. After a lifetime of disproving the presence of God in these instances, Kiernan has let doubt begin to creep into his faith. While on assignment in Sao Paulo, Kiernan hears of a miracle in a near by village - as the body of the popular local priest Father Alameida (Jack Donner) lays out, a statue of the Virgin Mary is seen with blood dripping from the marble eyes.
As Kiernan performs his tests, a small boy steals Father Alameida's rosary off the body - runs outside and quickly sells the holy item to an unsuspecting American tourist. As Kiernan becomes more and more convinced that the phenomena is genuine, the American tourist sends the rosary to her daughter Frankie (Patricia Arquette) who lives in Philadelphia. As soon as Frankie receives the package, strange things start to affect her carefree lifestyle. She hears voices when no one else is in the room, dove feathers appear at random, and suddenly she experiences excruciatingly painful wounds - holes through her arms just below the wrists.
Meanwhile, Kiernan has returned to the Vatican and learns that his investigation into the bleeding stature have been completely halted by his superior Cardinal Daniel Houseman (Jonathan Pryce). As he presses the matter, Kiernan experiences road block after road block until he's forced to fly to Philadelphia to investigate Frankie's most recent incident - apparently being whipped by an invisible force on a subway train. Upon his arrival - Kiernan sees there is a lot more going on that what meets the eye. Frankie instantly starts having trancelike episodes where she seemingly speaks an ancient language in a man's voice, and one by one she experiences the torments of Christ. But why is this random woman who hasn't attended church in years being inflicted with the stigmata? As Father Kiernan investigates, he learns things the Vatican has been trying to keep secret for centuries. Secrets that put the lives of Kiernan and Frankie at great risk.
I remember the build up to 'Stigmata' being a flurry of trailers and posters that went wall to wall. The movie theater I worked at at the time seemingly had the trailer attached to every film and the poster in every hallway. This was supposed to be a big movie, instead it landed with a thud. It didn't take people long to see this movie wasn't much of anything special in the realm of horror. For a movie that attempted to position itself as the next 'Exorcist' it only managed to become another 'Repossessed' albeit unintentionally.
Part of the problem with this one is that the plot lines are so terribly thin from being stretched nearly to the point of snapping. The entire film hinges on coincidences. The American woman who bought a random rosary happens to be that of an excommunicated priest who was researching a text that purports to be the actual words of Christ - coincidence. The miracle that Kiernan was investigating leading to that woman's daughter - coincidence. The cause of all the drama that has lead to these coincidences being Jonathan Pryce is also an incredible stretch of coincidence. If this movie had wanted to be truly genuinely frightening or have something profound to say - the conspiracy theory stuff needed to be dropped. It's just too much plot for a simple possession story. Add in the musings on the foundation of faith and what it means to be human and spiritual and you have a fairly bloated horror movie.
I'll give credit to the actors for doing their best to sell this thing, Patricia Arquette is particularly dedicated to the role - I just wish the effort had been worth it. Many of the problems that lead to the diminishing returns on the story and acting is the hyper stylized efforts from Director Rupert Wainwright. Lighting schemes change at random from over saturated to undersaturated. Shaky cameras one second, steady slow motion the smooth camera movement the next second. It's very jarring and not cohesive. Add in some less than convincing digital effects of the era and the final product isn't as compelling as it could have been.
All that said, it's not a total loss. There is some good material here and there and it does try hard to be a possession movie without being 'The Exorcist.' Had things found a little more focus, been a bit more patient to let things unfold naturally, 'Stigmata' could have been a pretty solid movie. It's still entertaining, but I can't help experience the same feeling I had when I left the theater all those years ago - had the production just bit the bullet and called itself 'The Exorcist IV' things might have gone a bit better. I doubt few would disagree with the notion that this one certainly is better than 'Exorcist: The Beginning.' I don't dislike the movie by any means, more often than not it's actually pretty decent, but it stumbles under the weight of its ambitions. If you've never seen it, give it a shot, you might enjoy it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Stigmata' possesses Blu-ray thanks to Scream Factory. Pressed on a BD50 Disc, the disc rolls through an advertisement for Shout Factory's new free streaming channel before reaching the main menu. Similar to most Scream releases, the menu consists of the traditional video clips from the film while music from the movie continues to play.
Crunchy - that's probably the best word to describe the HD image for 'Stigmata.' I'm willing to wager this is probably the same dated master that was used for the original DVD release. That wouldn't normally be a problem, but there is a significant amount of edge enhancement going on here. With the stylized color and filming style these effects are either hidden or become glaringly obvious. I don't fault Scream Factory for this, Fox/MGM are notorious for providing only dated masters for their genre catalogue titles. That said, due to the retained film grain, fine details are thankfully apparent allowing faces and clothing to come through with great clarity - again though this form of film grain with the added sharpening and enhancement can make the film look like it has a layer of cheese cloth hanging over it. But don't despair, things aren't all bad. I was actually expecting something on par with 'Ravenous' but thankfully black levels really come to the rescue here. With nice inky blacks, many of the dated issues with the master are hidden and allow for a nicely pleasing image with great color replication allowing plenty of primary pop. Also due to the age of the master there is some slight speckling throughout the print, but it's hardly noticeable. Maybe not the best transfer for a catalogue release - but its hardly the worst out there.
With its DTS-HD MA 5.1 and DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo tracks, 'Stigmata' makes a solid entry to the world of lossless audio. For this particular film, with such a rich and stylized sound design - I strongly suggest you saddle up for the 5.1 track. The stereo mix is very good, but with so much auditory elements at play including the dialogue, the music by Billy Corgan, and the numerous sound effects - the 5.1 just feels more stable and resonate. Most of the film is dominated by dialogue and both tracks keep towards the calmer midranges, but when stuff happens like when Frankie gets her stigmatic whipping on the subway train, the sudden spikes can be a bit jarring - but that's by design. Thankfully the levels are even enough that these spikes don't cause any kind of distortion or distracting side effects - at least for my system they didn't. All around these are nice tracks and lets Corgan's music that is chock full of low dissonant tones come through with crystal clarity. Dialogue can be heard just fine, but this is a movie where I appreciated the music more than what characters were saying.
All of the extra features are ported over from the previous DVD release and haven't undergone remastering.
Audio Commentary: Director Rupert Wainwright flies solo here offering up a lot of detail about the production.
Incredible But True - Stigmata Marked For Life: Oh man do I miss the old History Channel - this special is interesting, btu it's the goofy reenactments that really sells this special!
Divine Rights: The Story of Stigmata: (SD 25:36) I love these old making of features where everyone takes the movie so seriously, it's almost charming in its earnestness. It covers a lot of the same ground as the previous History Channel special.
Deleted Scenes: (SD 12:54) Note: The Alternate Ending plays at the head of these deleted scenes. Many of these scenes, while interesting, were better left on the cutting room floor. The cut gore effects were a shame to lose, they could have really spiced up the final film where things start to lag at times.
Theatrical Trailer: (HD 2:26) A serviceable enough trailer for this movie - nice little piece of late 90s movie marketing.
"Identify" Natalie Imbruglia Music Video: (SD 4:16) Remember music videos? Do they even still make those any more?
'Stigmata' is one of those movies that tries to do a lot but falls under the weight of its ambitions. Too much plot for a slim story. While still entertaining, one can't help but feel it could have been more than the sum of its parts. As a Blu-ray from Scream Factory - it's okay. The dated image master shows a lot of faults but is still relatively pleasing, while the DTS-HD MA audio upgrade knocks it out of the park. With all of the previous extra features ported over, I say this disc is at least worth a look.