Stigmata [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (18th May 2015).
The Film

Back around the turn of the century, when fears of Y2K were still a thing, horror delved more deeply into religious themes than usual, with a number of films focused on the antichrist and other apocalyptic scenarios taking center stage. Most were forgettable – I’m looking at you, “Bless the Child” (2000) and “Lost Souls” (2000); but a few remain completely watchable guilty pleasures, like “End of Days” (1999) and “Stigmata” (1999). Coincidentally enough, both also star Gabriel Byrne. Or maybe that is no coincidence… While the most of the aforementioned films featured the antichrist, Satan or some other demonic form searching for a way into our world, “Stigmata” took a wholly different approach by turning a deeply religious phenomenon into a full-blown horror picture. As explained in the movie, those afflicted with stigmata – an unexplainable condition in which sufferers manifest the wounds of Jesus – are often deeply religious and entrenched in the Catholic Church. Not exactly fertile ground for a horror picture, right? Well, that’s exactly why “Stigmata” is so horribly entertaining – because the filmmakers pushed the envelope at every opportunity, imbuing excessive bloodletting and (of course) a possession angle into what is, at its core, a mildly horrific occurrence.

In the tiny Brazilian village of Belo Quinto, Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) has been sent by the Catholic Church to investigate a statue of the Virgin Mary, which began weeping blood upon the death of the local church’s priest, Father Alameida (Jack Donner). Cut to Frankie (Patricia Arquette), a hair stylist living in Pittsburgh who just received a rosary from her mother, who also happens to be in Belo Quinto. Not long after, Frankie is attacked by some unseen force while lying in the bathtub, the encounter leaving her with nail-sized holes through each wrist. Doctors, of course, think it was a suicide attempt. During a subway ride home from the hospital, Frankie comes across a priest whom she accosts before suffering a second wound – whipping. It’s at this point that the Vatican gets wind of Frankie’s case and sends in Father Kiernan.

Kiernan interviews Frankie to get a better understanding of whether or not she’s truly suffering from stigmata, but his questions are cut short when it’s revealed Frankie is an atheist. According to Kiernan, only the most devout religious believers are afflicted; having an atheist receive the wounds of Christ would discredit much of the church’s dogma. Kiernan is skeptical, but when Frankie receives a third wound there’s no mistaking what is causing these injuries. Frankie begins to speak in ancient tongues, writes in Aramaic all over her walls and seems to be possessed by some spirit. Kiernan wants to help the girl, to solve this mystery, but his bosses at the Vatican are hurriedly trying to squash the case and prevent a secret from getting out that could ruin everything they have built.

Credit goes to both writers Tom Lazarus & Rick Ramage and director Rupert Wainwright for coming up with inventive ways to keep the film interesting, despite lacking a strong villain or much of a story. The closest the film comes to having an antagonist is Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce), a scheming, snivelling creep who is about as intimidating as our current pope. In terms of story, Kiernan is an investigator and Frankie suffers from stigmata – but what else? There’s no character arc for either one, nor is there an exact destination or goal for which they’re striving. Stopping whatever is causing Frankie’s affliction is an obvious agenda; outside of that there’s little else. So, how to keep things interesting? This is a horror film, after all.

Blood, for one thing. The moments when Frankie suffers a new wound are frenzied, dramatic and dripping with internal fluids. Frankie’s wrist wounds seem tame when compared to the lashings that rip open her back, or the crown of thorns that causes blood to ooze down her face like so much running mascara in the rain. Wainwright utilizes a lot of dissolves and tilting camera movement to sell the sense of mental fragmentation and disorder that occurs whenever Frankie is stricken with a new wound. The scenes are visceral and pack a decent punch.

Then there’s also the possession stuff, which absolutely adds to the horror but seems so out of place. Kiernan mentions that Frankie is more prone to demonic possession as she inches closer to God via the stigmata, but it’s who the film has possessing her that’s a bit quizzical. Hint: it’s a minor character that definitely does not seem like the type to inhabit a body and act all ghoulish. But why try to reason with the logic behind it? It looks unsettling when Frankie turns around while writing on her walls, face askew and eyes rolled back.

“Stigmata” likely would have been a total turd if a studio produced it today. Thankfully, the last vestiges of 90's production values are in full effect here and the film is all the more entertaining for them. Patricia Arquette is equal parts sex appeal and that-slightly-crazy-hairdresser-you-probably-shouldn’t-have-slept-with, and her turn from carefree club girl to deeply affected victim of a religious phenomenon is sold very well. Wainwright keeps the film stylish and brisk, with very little fat slowing down the measured momentum. Some of the most horrific tales in history are religious, and “Stigmata” runs with a tenuously grim story that winds up being a completely entertaining B-picture.

Video

While it is unquestionable that the visual appearance of “Stigmata” is underwhelming and lacking in terms of color reproduction and detail, it must also be known that there were many stylistic flourishes deliberately employed by the filmmakers in order to achieve such an aesthetic. Therefore, don’t come down too hard on the 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded picture. Wainwright and his collaborators intentionally drained color from the picture and played with contrast levels, choices which may have produced an image he liked but one that certainly doesn’t impress in high definition. Grain appears compressed and often soupy, thickening the image. Definition is sorely lacking, with most shots appearing slightly soft and devoid of fine details. To be fair, there are many shots that do show off some appreciable clarity, but more often than not the picture is just a few notches below normal HD visually. The print is slightly dirty, with flecks popping up intermittently. This is likely the best the picture can look, given the post-production choices made by the filmmakers, so it’s no fault of Scream Factory that this isn’t exactly a visually pleasing film.

Audio

The film’s music was left in the capable hands of Billy Corgan (yes, him) and, likely for that reason, expect to hear a lot of source music placed through the film’s English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track (48kHz/24-bit). These cuts provide some of the film’s most sonic moments, although they also (unintentionally) date the time to a very specific period. Soundtrack aside, the audio here rises slightly above average thanks to moderate bass response, a solid balance of dialogue alongside effects and a few punctual moments emanating from the rear speakers. Corgan’s compositions (which he co-wrote) tend to be more on the rock side of things, and a few of the film’s more tense moments get downright metal. The rear channels, in particular, add in some dizzy effects to sell Frankie’s muddled mental state. An English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track is also included. Subtitles are available in English.

Extras

MGM’s previous DVD included a handful of worthwhile extras, and this Blu-ray includes most of those plus some bonus goodies that were only found on international releases until now. There’s an audio commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes, a music video and theatrical trailer.

Director Rupert Wainwright is very talkative on his audio commentary track, delving right into the thought process behind opening the film and how he wanted to quickly establish our characters and the film’s hero, Father Kiernan. He also gets into some interesting technical details as well, like how to depict Frankie’s worsening condition and what goes on in her mind.

A reel of deleted scenes (SD, letterboxed) runs for 12 minutes and 54 seconds, these are mainly extra character bits with Frankie, her semi-boyfriend, some extra gore, and a slightly different ending.

“Divine Rights” (SD) is a featurette previously found only on international copies of the film on DVD, running for 25 minutes and 36 seconds. This piece is presented in two parts, with the first focusing on the history of stigmata, while the second half covers the film’s characters.

“Incredible but True” (SD) is listed as a featurette but it’s actually an episode of a show that aired on the History Channel; it runs for 44 minutes and 5 seconds. This piece delves much deeper into stigmata and its history, telling the tales of those who were afflicted and examining cases more closely.

A Natalie Imbruglia music video (SD) for the song "Identity" runs for 4 minutes and 16 seconds.

The theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 26 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case. The cover art is reversible.

Overall

“Stigmata” isn’t quite so trashy to be horribly entertaining, but Wainwright & co. get credit for producing a film that manages to retain horror sensibilities despite there being very little that is intrinsically horrific about it. This is a tale of religion, exploited to be more viable to genre fans and those who want something a bit outside the norm. It doesn’t always work, but it gets enough right to be a fun watch.

The Film: B- Video: B- Audio: B Extras: B+ Overall: B-

 


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