The year was 1999. Sega Dreamcast was released; Napster debuts. Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” had finally faded from the public eye. The new millenium was on the horizon, and in September, Y2K was a very real and cataclysmic potential event that sparked millions of technologically paranoid people to buy water, batteries, and – curiously – cider. It was also the year that Stigmata was released, a film that was most certainly not significantly influenced by massive hits like The Exorcist – definitely not, because Stigmata isn’t about demonic possession but about God-like possession where the protagonist finds herself with the wounds of Christ. As Shakespeare would call them, “zwounds.”
Rupert Wainwright would be the director to bring this new and original idea to film for the first timeever (as promo materials stated); prestigious showrunner behind such monumental films like Blank Check and a couple of M.C. Hammer videos, Wainwright had a track record about as popular as Hammer pants and it only made sense for him to direct a film that also included the likes of Patricia Arquette, Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins on the score, and a new haunting melody from fucking Natalie Imbruglia.
The late ’90s, folks, were a thing of beauty.
With this sort of star power, Stigmata couldn’t fail, and to be honest, the box office numbers are actually pretty good. But critics jumped all over the messy direction and washed out film, leaving it with a very low 22% on Rotten Tomatoes. Now that Scream Factory has brought the film to Blu-Ray, perhaps things have changed.
Or maybe not. Stigmata is certainly plagued with a confusing story due to its non-committal nature. As the film progresses, it fails to define what exactly ails protagonist Frankie (Arquette). Her wounds are the same as Christ’s – hands and feet punctured with nails, lash marks on her back, scratches on her head from a crown of thorns – but the reasoning behind them is questionable. Father Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) attempts to help her by explaining these occurrences throughout the film, but for the most part, he’s just as dumbfounded because Frankie isn’t a devout religious follower, normally the only kind of person to receive the stigmata.
Wainwright’s exploration of this doubt seems to be a message about religious faith and the mystery of God’s ways, but ultimately it becomes a question in direction. It seems that he wants Stigmata to work in two ways, neither of which pair well together. On the one hand, the film wants Arquette to be a punky character that is literally enlightened by God with the stigmata, changing her life in ways that she can’t control. On the other, the film is attracted to copying demonic possession storylines, going so far as to give Frankie vocal changes and red eyes as though there’s something less than Godly inhabiting her.
These alternations are turbulent, and Stigmata continues to muddle its story throughout. Sometimes, Frankie seems to be attempting to tell Father Kiernan something important about a secret gospel directly from Jesus; at other times, she’s attempting to harm and/or seduce Kiernan. There’s an attempt to explain this confusion away by stating that those with stigmata are open to spiritual and demonic influence, but it’s not satisfactory: in the film’s conclusion, when the inevitable and foreseeable “twist” is revealed that a priest has actually been inhabiting Frankie, the tapestry unravels because the priest’s motivations are simply unclear.
There’s another flaw with Stigmata, and it’s even worse than a head- scratching plot – it’s somewhat boring. Wainwright structures the film well enough, following Frankie as she receives each of the five wounds of Christ, but the film often struggles to find anything to do. Most interesting is the depiction of the Vatican as corrupt; one need not imagine Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce) twisting his mustache and barking orders to burn the Jesus Gospel, because Pryce chews scenery anyway. Funny thing is, though, that Stigmata doesn’t really explain why the Gospel should be kept secret besides a throwaway line about understanding it granting a reprieve from death.
The washed-out color scheme of the film contributes to the blase feeling; if you watch the featurette on this disc, the crew note that the bluish tint is meant to be a creative and original idea for the film, but it’s a pretty standard way of shooting in a film that is almost always dark and rainy-dreary, and their insistence that the lack of red throughout the first part of the film enhances the later addition of it is humorous because I didn’t even notice it.
Stigmata is unable to overcome its oddly unfocused plot, even with Billy Corgan’s score and the infusion of Chumbawamba’s “Mary, Mary” in the opening credits. They probably should have left in the deleted sex scene with a nude Arquette body double. Instead, the film overplays its Exorcist tendencies to poor effect in the final act, leaving the viewer questioning the film’s intent more than their faith in a higher power.
Scream Factory’s release of Stigmata comes with a reversible cover, which is nice because I’ve never been partial to the film’s standard artwork. The film is presented in 2.35:1 ratio with either 5.1 or 2.0 surround sound, with English subtitles. It looks good on Blu-Ray, but as I noted before, the film has a somewhat washed-out look to it anyway, so it’s not exactly a “pretty” movie.
Included for extras is a series of cut scenes from the film, presented in rough quality; for most, it’s pretty clear why they were cut out of the final product, because they’re slow and unnecessary. But one in particular seems to show an alternate direction for Stigmata in its rough incarnation, with a poltergeist-esque haunting sequence more akin to supernatural horror. There’s also an audio commentary with director Rupert Wainwright which expands upon the promo material interviews.
Featurettes include a promo video for Stigmata shot for its release, which features both a look at historical stigmata and then promotion for the movie. It’s an intriguing watch. The second feature is actually an episode of Incredible But True?, “Stigmata: Marked for Life.” It has little to do with the film itself, but similarly interesting.
Also on the disc is a trailer and music video for Natalie Imbruglia’s featured song.
To sum up, however, unless you’re a big fan of the film or simply looking to own it on Blu-Ray, there’s not much to warrant re-purchasing this set. The special features aren’t really notable, so if you already own it, skip it.