A Dvd Review: Stigmata (mgm) [Archive] - Audio & Video Forums


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07-21-2005, 01:17 AM

[NOTE: The title of this thread, as well as THE AMITYVILLE HORROR COLLECTION review thread, was supposed to be in ALL CAPS like the rest of my reviews, but for some odd reason (I have been experiencing this a lot lately) the system WILL NOT capitalize the letters for the title of these threads; my apologies in advance for the inconsistencies.]

This is a very confusing but chilling, interesting film; I can remember seeing it theatrically and then I purchased it on DVD in an MGM "Two Pack" promotion along with the original single disc release of The Amityville Horror once I first got very much into home theater. The subject matter this film deals with is loaded with controversey and it a subject material that mixes possession and exorcism themes with the possibility of real coverups in the Vatican regarding the original language spoken by Jesus Christ in the First Century and the subsequent "Stigmata" attacks upon deeply devoted Christians; the subject matter is taken so seriously by the filmmakers that there is a multi-page booklet included in this DVD keepcase package devoted to the hysterics behind the Stigmata myth and how they were crafted into this film, along with internet links to websites actually devoted to this subject.

And this "subject" is, as I said, a very controvertial one ---- devout Catholics believe there are people out there who receive the "Stigmata" --- that is, the actual wounds Christ received when he was crucified; his hands and feet were nailed to the cross, while a crown of thorns was driven into his head and finally a spear driven into his side to kill him. These believers in Stigmata say there are people who have been witnessed with actual constantly bleeding feet, hands, heads and even bleeding slashes across their backs; these "phenomenon" were never actually confirmed by the Vatican or the Catholic Church itself, and the reports are usually handled in the same way tales of "demonic possession" and "exorcism" are: they are dismissed by members of the Clergy.

Gabriel Byrne stars in Stigmata as one such priest working for the Vatican as an investigator of "false claims" made by Catholics around the world; he travels the globe, looking for signs that "miracles" and Stigmatics can be disproved. Upon entering a church in Brazil, he comes across a bleeding statue that sits next to a dead priest's coffin ---- a statue whose eyes are bleeding what turns out to be real, warm, human blood. Returning to the Vatican to make his report, his boss, played by Jonathan Pryce, tells Byrne to stay away from the church in Brazil, regardless of the fact that there is this statue there which is bleeding and its worshippers have made it their cornerstone of faith; Byrne wants to convince Pryce something is amiss here at this church, but Pryce is covering something up by insisting that this is just another "hoax" of a bleeding statue, and we get this feeling early on.

Meanwhile, a couple vacationing in the same small town in Brazil stumble, in an outdoor market, upon a cross and rosary necklace which belonged to this dead priest in the church. The woman sends the cross to her daughter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Patricia Arquette) where immediately, she begins to get "demonic attacks" and immediate signs of Stigmata. As the film progresses, her wounds get worse and worse, beginning with bleeding wrists and then ankles, and moving onto invisible "whippings" across her back while she is on a subway train and other Stigmatic signs. Byrne is sent to Pittsburgh to investigate, and is convinced Arquette's wounds are authentic; but the film splinters into different themes and plots here, and as I said earlier, gets really confusing. It takes a long time to get to the point, but it seems that Arquette is actually possessed by the spirit of this dead priest from Brazil, through the cross her mother sent her, who carries with him an ancient message from the time of Christ --- this is all very confusing when you watch the film and it will have you scratching your head, but if exorcism and possession films are your thing, Stigmata delivers in some regard.

Byrne, through other priests and scholars at the Vatican, learns that this dead priest, who seems to be in possession of Arquette and is the reason why she is receiving the Stigmata attacks, is able to unlock a secret message from Christ himself, and if this message gets out, it can destroy the modern Church and what it stands for; I did not understand this plot line of this film AT ALL, no matter how many times I watched this film, and it gets even more confusing when what you would call an "exorcism" is performed on Arquette toward the end by Pryce and another priest and some nuns because they want this messenger to be silenced ---- but why the exorcism then? It appears this dead priest's spirit is some kind of serious threat to the modern day Catholic Church because this "scroll" containing the words of Christ buried within Arquette (and in the priest originally) can somehow destroy Catholicism as we know it.......I know this all sounds so weird and offbeat, and it is. But this film still sends chills your way when you watch it, and feels different from the typical Exorcist rip-offs, if you want to call it that, which it really isnt. And the way in which this picture was filmed is strange, too, with a mix of "art house" style independent film-type moods (complete with rampaging music from Billy Corigan of The Smashing Pumpkins) and serious horror/possession themes; there are creepy moments when Arquette is writing on the walls of her apartment in Aramaic --- the language spoken by Jesus' deciples --- and then turns around to face Byrne with a totally transformed look on her face --- that of this dead priest or possibly Jesus himself, and speaks in an Aramaic tongue with her eyes halfway rolled back.....the special effects work was spectacular, with Arquette's eyes constantly changing colors and shapes throughout her "Stigmatic possession" stages.

But it just all gets so damn confusing.......Arquette's performance as Frankie Paige, who cuts hair for a living and seems to be a real cold *****, seemed inapporpriate for this role, while Gabriel Byrne was right in his league --- his performance as the priest/investigator who begins as an individual trained to disprove such things as miracles and Stigmata and then ends up believing in such things at the end was delivered quite professionally, and I believe he will always be one of Hollywood's most underrated actors. The scenes where Arquette is suddenly "attacked" with the signs of Stigmata --- with quick-cut flashes of nails being driven into hands and feet at a rapid, MTV-style editing pace --- were shocking and graphic, but mixed with the underlying subplot that this dead priest has possessed her and the church needs to cover up the "message" Arquette is hiding from him all makes for a very, very confusing ride during the watching of Stigmata.

What's interesting about MGM's DVD release of this title is that there is an alternate director's ending to the film that can be watched by itself by going to the DVD's menu screen, or there is actually an option BEFORE you begin playback of the feature presentation which allows you to watch the entire film WITH either the alternate or original theatrical ending; the alternate ending changes the conclusion of this film dramatically and alters the entire purpose of the plot, and for those of you who have never seen the film, I am not going to give it away. It was a nice bonus touch by MGM, though.

In a nutshell, what happens during this film is this: after being sent the cross and rosary beads from the dead priest in Brazil from her mother, Arquette's character begins to show signs of Stigmata attacks --- her hands and feet bleed, and during the length of the film, the attacks get wilder and she gets the remaining original wounds of Christ during his crucifixion....Byrne, an investigator for the Vatican, is sent to investigate, like I said, and is convinced, although Arquette is a non-practicing atheist and it seems quite impossible, that she is receiving authentic Stigmatic attacks.....his belief is certified when the girl begins speaking in a language not spoken since the time of Christ and her physical features change and she begins throwing Byrne around her apartment with super human strength, talking in a demonic, bellowing voice. It is made apparent to us (not so easily, as I have been saying) that somehow the spirit of this dead priest from the beginning (who translated the most sacred of the First Century scrolls from the time of Christ) has possessed Arquette, and Jonathan Pryce (a Cardinal with the Vatican) and the Vatican itself must "silence" this "messenger" because the "message" from this priest inside Arquette is somehow a threat to modern day Christianity.

While it doesnt exhibit expert acting nor does it terrify like the film it seems at times it so wants to rip off, William Friedkin's The Exorcist, Stigmata is a moody, atmospheric, creepy look at this secret phenomenon known as Stigmata --- and it is perhaps the first film to ever explore the issue. Make no mistake about it --- Gabriel Byrne's acting performance combined with heavy measures of religious imagery and well done special effects suggesting demonic possession at times --- is what really saves this film from being labled as "bad"; but at the end of the day, it is not --- and those who enjoy religious-oriented material dealing with the occult and demonic possession (such as the aforementioned Exorcist or the new-to-DVD Keanu Reeves thriller Constantine) will find much to like in Rupert Wainwright's Stigmata --- especially with all the bonus, fold-out written information contained in the DVD case itself on the subject matter which seems to be taken very seriously by the production team.


MGM has not labled the aspect ratio for Stigmata on the rear of the box, instead giving us what I have written above......after watching it on my 55" 16X9 set, there was slight letterboxing, suggesting a 2:35:1 or 2:40:1 aspect scope. At any rate, this was a pretty bad effort from MGM. I havent seen this title or taken it off my shelf IN A LONG TIME, but I cant remember it looking this grainy; there is an intentional washed-out, dreary look to the colors, especially to suggest that these are the real atmospheric conditions where the film is mainly supposed to take place, in Pittsburgh, but the overall transfer is simply sub par.....there is an annoying layer of light grain that runs through almost the entire feature, and some areas of the DVD just look downright unfocused on certain characters. This looks more like VHS, in other words, than DVD. There is a comment in the booklet that comes inside the box suggesting, by the filmmakers, that there was a special LOOK developed for the transfer of this film to DVD --- perhaps THATS what they were going for, but in the end, it looks too gritty to me and not really what DVD is supposed to look like. Considering the non-existent fan base out there, dont expect a Special Edition of this title with a newly reminted video transfer.....although I have been wrong before.........


Like I stated in the review, Stigmata was actually one of the first titles I was exposed to when first getting into DVD and home theater, believe it or not, and when playing it through my first setup those years ago, I used to be thrilled with this Dolby 5.1 track......doesnt seem to be the case anymore. After being subjected to so much better-prepared audio tracks in recent years, I noticed an immediate lack of dynamics on this track, specifically with the center dialogue channel.....it appears muffled and low compared to the rest of the mix. BUT, when called upon --- such as any sequence when nails are being shown driven into feet and hands or sudden bursts of Stigmatic activity are happening to Arquette --- this soundtrack immediately bursts to life and startles you with decent LFE support during the nail-driving scenes; the mix, overall, is busy and atmospheric, with near-constant use of the surrounds to support scenes with busy street noises, birds flying and flapping their wings, or even just the gentle dripping of water under some drain pipes. The problem here is, again, the overall bitrate used for the transfer and the resulting "volume output power" of the track, which needs amplification to really get you immersed in the film and to compensate for the weak dialogue track. It is sometimes hard to make out what Byrne is saying unless your system is up pretty high --- and then sudden, jarring blasting effects like a Stigmatic attack on Arquette --- come nailing through the entire soundstage and startle you. This may have been done purposely by the engineers on the sound mix to separate quiet passages from startling loud ones for audio shock value, but sometimes the "quiet" passages get TOO quiet.

But, as I said, the 5.1 track does make good, near-constant use of the surrounds, which is always a plus in my book, and draws you into the film with atmospheric sounds and loud, jarring moments of startling audio that will make you jump in your seat if you were unfocused during a previous quieter dialogue driven moment. The Billy Corigan-themed score and songs which run rampant through the film are rendered nicely through the soundstage, too, still lacking that overall "hot volume" of modern Dolby Digital mixes, yet feeding adequately to all speakers.


-Director's Alternative Ending
-Deleted Scenes
-Music Video by Natalie Imbruglia
-Collectible 8 Page Booklet
-Theatrical Trailer