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Movie from hell

By Annie S. Choi

Directed by Rupert Wainwright

Produced by Frank Mancuso, Jr.

Written by Tom Lazarus and Rick Romage

With Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce, Enrico Calantoni

In the mood for some self-mutilation? How’s your faith these days? You can test it by seeing Stigmata. Directed by Rupert Wainwright, MGM’s latest endeavor features Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, and Jonathan Pryce, with music arranged by Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins.

Gabriel Byrne plays Father Andrew Kiernan, a Catholic priest from the Vatican who investigates miracles all around the world. He is a scientist who turned to God in search of a higher answer to existence. Thus, he is well educated in the Holy Bible as well as organic chemistry. He is a religious scientist who happens to unravel ‘miracles’ aimed at exploiting the devout and taking in rather healthy donations. So really, he’s a skeptic priest scientist.

Meet Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette). She is a 23 year-old hairdresser with bad luck in love. She drinks. She smokes. She parties. And guess what? She doesn’t believe in God. Do you sense inevitable conflict?

Paige receives a rosary from her mom, who sent it from a South American church that happens to have a lot of candles, doves, a dead excommunicated priest, and a Virgin Mary statue which cries blood. Soon the heroine gets mysterious puncture wounds in her wrists, followed by some slashes on her back (both of which spurt enough blood to satisfy the Red Cross for months). Is it attempted suicide? Is it epilepsy? The doctors think so. No, it’s possession.

Well what do you know, Paige suffers from stigmata. Historically, only those who are the most religious develop signs of five wounds -- the same wounds Jesus experienced during his crucifixion. Devouts like St. Francis de Assisi and Frankie Paige. She needs help. She’s an innocent irreligious girl with stigmata and our priest skeptic scientist is the principle investigator. She unwittingly writes ancient Aramaic, the supposed language of the historical Jesus, on her living room wall. It is an excerpt from a gospel written by Jesus -- his true Word. The Vatican has known about the lost gospel for years, but has been trying to keep it under wraps since it can undermine the Church. The gospel states that “His Kingdom is inside of you.” Therefore a church which requires it’s own zip code within Rome is quite unnecessary. The possessed Frankie is enraged because someone is trying to stop the true word of God.

Through this entire possession, the ‘real’ Paige flirts with Father Kiernan. Has he ever been with a woman? Does he think about sex? The characters are thrown into a silly love relationship that fails to be interesting, nor are the characters developed enough for us to even care. The dialogue solely functions to push the course of events and is void of meaning and full of banal quips. “I want my life back,” she cries. Well of course she does, but it’s just a little difficult now that she’s possessed.

Perhaps the only thing more banal than the dialogue is the imagery. Director Rupert Wainwright (Disney’s Blank Check, some Reebok commercials) lacked the creativity to use images beyond crucifixes, religious statues, candles, and doves. These, juxtaposed with scenes of body piercing, tattooing, sex, alcohol, and electronica managed to make a dumb movie even dumber. Throw in some church music and some Chumbawumba. Now repeat over and over and over again. Now we have a movie.

Along with the many juxtapositions of bleeding wrists and body piercing, the film’s soundtrack features clashing musical styles. One minute church organs, next minute re-mixes of Bjork’s electronic sounds. The music direction was lead by Billy Corgan, the Smashing Pumpkins frontman, with additional music by jazz musician Mike Garson. The result is a strange and intriguing mixture of sounds which is far more interesting than the movie itself. The soundtrack features artists like David Bowie, the Afro Celt Sound System with Sinead O’Connor, Massive Attack, and Natalie Imbruglia. It’s an impressive group, but somewhat distracting. The music was overpowering at times, but failed to have the dramatic affect that was intended.

Though the film is a disgrace, Gabriel Byrne pulls off the skeptic priest scientist well. His is the only character the audience may care about, but really does not. Patricia Arquette pulls off a lackluster performance: she did not have much of a character beyond a tragic hairstylist with a lot of Band-Aids. However, the most enjoyable character to watch is Jonathan Pryce as the evil Cardinal Housemen. It’s those beady eyes and that cold accent which transforms him into a priest dedicated to securing the Catholic Church’s power by any means necessary.

The main problem with Stigmata is it’s elements taken from too many genres -- it’s a horror film, a love story and a suspense/drama with a political and religious message. The Exorcist is unmistakably a horror film. It has all the great elements of a thriller -- demons, plenty of blood, maybe some acidic spit. Stigmata is just a bad movie. If the film had focussed its attention on developing its characters and plot, it could have been a welcome surprise. With most horror movies centered towards high school kids, this reporter was looking forward to an adult thriller, only to be disappointed.