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Director: Rupert Wainwright
Writers: Tom Lazarus, Rick Ramage
Cast: Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce
Length: 103 min
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: May 19, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2:39:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
- Audio Commentary with Rupert Wainwright
- Incredible but True Featurette History Channel Special on the history of Stigmata
- Divine Rites: The Story Of Stigmata: Making Of Featurette
- Deleted and Alternative Scenes
- Natalie Imbruglia Music Video
On a pilgrimage to Mount La Verna in the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi became the first person in history to be inflicted with a condition referred to as stigmata. Stigmata is a religious disorder where victims are marked with wounds that mimic the injuries inflicted on Jesus during his crucifixion. It is said to inflict only the deeply religious, and varies in intensity for each individual inflicted. As a phenomenon, it has confounded members of both the religious and scientific alike. Much like the phenomena of possession, stigmata has at least enough reasonable doubt to keep it an active talking point throughout history. Also like possession, stigmatics are, by their very nature, a concept that easily lends itself to horror. The aptly titled Stigmata is probably the most significant and well-known film to tackle the subject matter. Directed by Rupert Wainwright, Stigmata is an evocative piece of later 90s mainstream horror. Despite the fact that the film was a relative hit, it has largely been overlooked in the near-two decades since its release. While somewhat of an off kilter release from a brand mostly known for championing classic and/or cult gems, Scream Factory has decided to give the film their Blu-Ray treatment, marking Stigmata’s debut in high definition. Let’s see how time has treated it…
While not the best decade for the genre, 90s (in particular late 90s) mainstream horror is, overall, very much slighted. When analyzed closely, the decade could be said to release some very interesting films — albeit sometimes rather dated ones. The aftereffect of Scream may have ushered in countless vanilla teen slashers, but it didn’t completely kill the genre. Riding on the simultaneous influence of more extreme forms of popular music (the grunge wave, etc) and a growing artistry in music videos, horror films became extremely stylized. This comes with both its positive and negative values, but definitely can be argued to push the medium visually — the quintessential example being David Fincher’s 1995 horror-thriller Se7en. This is the world that Stigmata both emerges from and embodies. Released in the decade’s last year, Stigmata represents just about everything bad and good about 90s horror. It is far from a perfect film but it is one that still has immense value and is worthy of reconsideration.
Following a stint as a music video director (working with MC Hammer, NWA, and Michael Jackson among others), Wainwright’s film career was launched (with the exception of a made-for-tv movie) with Disney’s Blank Check. It was with his second film, The Sadness of Sex, however, that he began to flex the artistic flair that he had exhibited as a music video director. Merging the commercial and artistic sensibilities of his former two films, Wainwright set his sights on horror for his third film, Stigmata. It’s a shame that Wainwright hasn’t had more opportunities — his only film since being The Fog remake in 2005 — to work within the medium because Stigmata shows a real promise, even if it isn’t always delivered on properly.Together with cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball (True Romance, Mission Impossible 2), Wainwright creates a stunning visual palette. The cinematography is easily the film’s best highlight. Wainwright is a big fan of slow motion and he mostly uses it successfully. The problem, however, is that he tends to resort to it more often than needed, reducing its effect at times. Further, the manipulation of color gives the film a subdued, industrial feel that highlights the modern age the film is eager to represent. Meanwhile, shots in Brazil and at the Vatican are bright and evenly lit. The contrast of these locales creates a symbolic dichotomy between the modern and the ancient that film exploits to its benefit. It is in these dichotomies that Stigmata should be praised. The film deals not in absolutes but in compromises. Skepticism is undermined by religion, but in the same breath skepticism undermines pure religiosity. The infrastructure of religion comes in conflict the spirituality and vice-versa. It questions authoritative views of religion, even if it doesn’t aim to completely underwrite them.
As stated, Stigmata is not a perfect film, far from it. While the story itself is interesting, the script is rather weak. Admittedly, the concept of stigmata is muddled with notions of satanic possession. For those that pursuing in the film an accurate representation of a figure suffering from symptoms of stigmata, Wainwright’s vision is not the film you seek. Accuracy is not something the film is interested in, so it is perhaps best to judge the film on other merits. The film seems aggressive in its desire to be ‘The Exorcist of the 90s,’ or ‘to stigmata what the The Exorcist was to demonic possession.’ Compared to Freidkin’s classic, Stigmata is sure to fail.But, Stigmata does grapple with a lot of the same themes as Freidkin’s film. Principally, for the film to work it sets itself in a world where the Christian faith is an inarguable reality of life. In doing so, Wainwright is able to contrast spirituality with organized religion. By doing so, the film is a rather scathing rejection of organized religion while not being a renunciation of religion itself. Organized Religion is viewed as a powerful organization that manipulates the facts to pursue a Catholic interpretation of Christianity. The fact that Cardinal Daniel Houseman (played effortlessly by the brilliant Jonathan Pryce) is the true villain of the film but is often overshadowed by the needless stigmatic-meets-possessed scenes liberally borrowed from The Exorcist proves to be the film’s fatal flaw. This confounds the film’s message but not in the way that would best serve its means, because it does not result in productive ambiguity but confused ideology. Despite being cast in a complicated and even misguided role, Patricia Arquette’s performance cannot be criticized. Arquette is really one of the best working actors and it is a shame that she does not work more. She imbues the character of Frankie with an honest sense of vulnerability and strength, and emerges as the shining star of the film.
Unfortunately for Scream Factory, they are often subjected to the transfers made available to them by companies that aren’t terribly interested in their genre output. MGM seems to be rather guilty of this over the years, and this transfer shows signs of that. At times, the print almost looks upscaled, as it lacks defined clarity. However, it must be noted that a lot of stylistic choices of the film leave some of these observations difficult to pinpoint. For instance, all of the film’s highlights are almost completely blown out, giving the film a soft glow during bright scenes. What is present, however, is far from displeasing. The intended desaturated palette has a wonderful coldness to it, while still leaving room for the warm tones present in some of the scenes shot on location in Italy and Brazil. Reds, when present, are super crisp and vibrant, forming a nice clash with the otherwise cold imagery. All in all, a modest effort that shouldn’t deter people away, but don’t expect a marvelous transfer.
The audio does fare better than video, and we are presented with both a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 track that each give the viewer a fine aural experience. The film’s soundtrack and sound design are rather immersive, so the 5.1 mix does offer a bit better experience. Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) teams up with Czech-born composer Elia Cmiral to bring a really inventive and singular score. Meshing the melodic yet harsh tonalities of Corgan’s style with a more synth-driven score, the soundtrack works both in service of the visuals, while at the same time defining the film by its era.
It comes as kind of shame but not a total surprise that Scream Factory have not commissioned any new content for this disc but the features that they have ported over from various releases are all nice additions in their own right. There are two equally interesting featurettes that both deal with the concept of stigmata. The first, Divine Rights:The Story Of Stigmata, starts from the perspective of stigmata itself and then transitions into a making-of style piece. The second is a history channel special on stigmata entitled Incredible But True – Stigmata: Marked For Life. Of the two, most will probably find the former a bit more streamlined and relevant for the film. The latter, however, offers a deeper look at the history of stigmata, giving viewers the info the film often misinterprets or overlooks. There is also an audio commentary with director Rupert Wainwright, who gives us a nice insight into his creative, stylistic choices. Finally, the disc features deleted scenes, an alternative ending, a music video by Natalie Imbruglia from the soundtrack, and the theatrical trailer.
Since The Exorcist there has been an influx of religious horror films, both good and bad. Stigmata is one of the better mainstream representations of the subgenre. It may be shackled by a need to maintain widespread appeal (seen in the appeal to satanic aspects that otherwise aren’t in service of the script), but the film is still cohesive and entertaining. Wainright’s stylistic sensibilities help to propel the film forward, while the strength of the actors ground the film. Presented with a modest transfer and a set of fine features, Scream Factory have given us a good but not great first release of the film — and what will probably be the only North American release we will see. If you are in a fix for some 90s mainstream horror and are a fan of the genre, you really can’t go wrong with this Blu-Ray. If neither properties are your thing, Stigmata will fail to impressive.