This movie should have been called Beauty and the Priest.

StigmataStigmata is a story about poor Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette). She’s just a regular gal – a 23-year-old hairdresser in Pittsburgh, with a cavernous apartment that leaks, and a boyfriend who won’t commit – who’s got a weird little problem: spontaneous bleeding from her wrists and ankles, thorn marks on her forehead, whip-like wounds on her back, and seizure-like freakouts for no particular reason.

Otherwise, she’s just swell. “I love being me. Ask anyone,” she tells a curious doctor. Then she starts writing things in Aramaic, one of the arcane languages used to write the Gospels, and speaking in voices not her own.


A Vatican envoy, Father Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne), is speedily sent by some Vatican types who are clearly up to no good, and upon arrival he finds out that, not only does Frankie not attend church, but she — whoops! — doesn’t even believe in a Higher Being.

In case you’ve been in Nepal, we sure seem to be getting a lot of “the end is nigh” lately, ranging from the ensemble drama Last Night to big-budget Hollywood stuff: Winona Ryder all worried and fretful in Lost Souls, while Das Schwarzenegger just release something awful called End of Days, which already has the distinction of having the most hideous movies I’ve seen in years.

Stigmata, a truly mysterious film that has a workable idea – what would happen if a completely unreligious person began having intense, even ecstatic, religious visions and experiences – must have looked good on paper to someone, somewhere, but after the adrenaline-charged first half, it begins lurching on for the reaminder with hanging-plot twists and some pretty corny dialogue, interspersed with what look like excerpts from a music video made by some naughty Catholic-school graduates. (In one, images of the crucifixion are followed by a quick-cut to a sex scene… oooh, sinful.)

A good question is why this would be happening to a non-believer. An interesting question, it has to do with a rosary, stolen from a dead priest, that Frankie’s mom had picked up while vacationing in Brazil. (The moral of this movie? Refuse all souvenirs.)

Director Rupert Wainwright, best known for his commercials and music videos, but if this film is about anything, it’s water. This is the wettest-looking movie I’ve seen since Blade Runner: Pittsburgh is shown under a perpetual deluge of rainfall, and it doesn’t stop there.

Frankie’s apartment leaks (sometimes upwards); and there’s a gorgeous double-reflection effect of her body submerged in an old-style bathtub. (One of the only times the photographer, Jeffrey L. Kimball, doesn’t emulate the dark, burnt quality that seems to have become all the rage since Mike Figgis used super-16 mm to film Leaving Las Vegas.) Persons attending Stigmata may be advised to take an umbrella.

There’s also a workmanlike appearance by the fires of hell; numerous shots of nails being pounded into flesh, with appropriate sound effects; and a few scenes that could be outtakes from The Exorcist or Carrie. Arquette, despite having to spend most of the movie having blood sponged off her, brings a sweetly wistful girl-next-door quality to punky Frankie, and Byrne does his manly best as the tormented priest. But surely there’s a better movie for these two characters.