Stigmata

on September 10, 1999 by Christine James
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   A cursed talisman from a remote third-world village is sent to a young woman in the United States who unwittingly construes it as a decoration. She begins behaving erratically, and it soon becomes evident that she has become possessed by an entity that lacerates her, levitates her, speaks in tongues and taunts priests. The Vatican investigator assigned to her case, meanwhile, is undergoing a crisis of faith, a weakness ruthlessly exploited by the demon.
   So "Stigmata" bears more than a passing resemblance to "The Exorcist." Absolution would be bestowed if the film delivered on the thrills and chills. But there's nothing scary about a spirit who writes cuneiform gospels on walls in the hopes of sharing the lost words of Jesus with the world. The fact that the conduit for the message, a twentysomething atheist hairstylist and party girl named Frankie (Patricia Arquette), must suffer excruciating torture as she is mysteriously inflicted with crucifixion wounds would be more troubling if she seemed to be in real jeopardy. Although we're told that if Frankie receives all five wounds suffered by Christ she will die, the momentum is shot as we repeatedly see her walking around fully recovered and surprisingly unconcerned and incurious only hours after having invisible spikes driven through her hands and feet. Some of these dire wounds seem to need only to be dabbed with a damp cloth by a concerned onlooker to remedy all pain, blood loss and permanent damage.
   The nature of Frankie's possession is annoyingly glossed over; the elements of good and evil and the resultant stigmatic manifestations are explained, but unsatisfyingly so. Overwrought hallucination sequences and style-over-substance symbolism like dripping water, doves and fleeting corporeal disembodiments seem to be vague and unsuccessful attempts at clumsily inserting some much-needed mysticism.
   And if Frankie can only elicit enough to concern to half-heartedly ask if she's going to die, why should we care? The fate of the world is not at risk. The only person who's worried is the obligatory corrupt Cardinal (Jonathan Pryce) who fears the Church and his power will be undermined if the general populace learns Christ's secret message, which is pretty silly given that it's about as revelatory as a Stuart Smalley daily affirmation. Starring Patricia Arquette, Gabrielle Byrne and Jonathan Pryce. Directed by Rupert Wainwright. Written by Tom Lazarus and Rick Ramage. Produced by Frank Mancuso Jr. An MGM release. Horror/Thriller. Rated R for intense violent sequences, language and some sexuality. Running time: 99 min
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