But for now let's get right to the bloody heart of the matter. Shrouded in mystery and superstition, the title refers to a phenomenon whereby individuals stricken with stigmata bleed from parts of the body corresponding to the wounds Christ suffered during the Passion and Crucifixion. Per the stated lore, it is originally thought that the affliction is reserved only for the deeply devout, as a physical manifestation of their overzealous sympathy. That noted, the who, what, where and when of the curse (or is it really a painful blessing?) gets a mite confusing if not downright inconsistent.
Hence, Patricia Arquette as Pittsburgh hairdresser Frankie Paige, an avowed atheist, really has 'em confounded when she starts spurting all over the place. Doctors at the hospital figure her for a suicide victim. But you know that can't be the case; because anyone who manages to have such a great apartment, and on a beauty operator's salary yet, certainly wouldn't want to give it up.
Eventually, a local priest catches her effusive act on the subway and phones the big boys back at the home office. Little does he know what a huge can of worms his discovery opens; alarms go off in the Vatican. Inextricably tied to the main plot is a major league tale of politics and intrigue. It seems those powers that be would like certain data suppressed (hmmm, still too early in this criticism to divulge what the hush-hush is all about).
Dispatched to Pittsburgh is Gabriel Byrne as Father Andrew Kiernan, all- around compassionate man of the cloth and the Church's numero uno scientist-priest in charge of investigating miracles. A kindly collection of contradictions in a collar, he brings his own bag of doubt and scepticism to this religious field trip along the Monongahela. Still, he's immediately ready to dismiss the case when he learns that Frankie is a non-believer. And then all Hell breaks loose (almost literally) when he witnesses his subject thrash through a series of Exorcist-like fits.
The highly charged episodes of cataclysmic portent, quick-cut delivered in kaleidoscopic, MTV video style, prove an unholy marriage between religious mysticism and the latest in FX techniques. Interspliced with Frankie's agonising contortions are shattering visions and sounds of a hammer repeatedly hitting a spike. There's lots of blood and no small amount of wince-causing menace. But you'll be disappointed if you were hoping for volumes of forcefully expelled pea soup and 360-degree spinning heads; maybe they're just saving that for the sequel.
Frankie emerges from each one of these horrific trances with her stigmata in full flow. She has also recently taken to scribbling graffiti on her walls, in Aramaic no less. Hey, just who is this gal anyway? And why does she do that scary guy-voice thing during her Richter Scale-worthy conniptions?
Could this have anything to do with the rosary mom sent her from that cute little town in Brazil? You know, the tiny village where our Vatican detective originally went to investigate a stone statue of the Virgin Mother bleeding from the eyes. Said astonishing haemorrhage began only after the passing of Father Alameida, the townsfolk's much beloved shepherd. The beads were stolen from the deceased priest's coffin. One more piece of information to digest here, though Heaven (or is it the other place we're dealing with here?) knows there are many more plot tangents and loose ends: The good padre reputedly had knowledge of those status quo-threatening documents (oops, really still too early in the review to discuss any of that).
Oh, just one more thing. This may be important. When Father Kiernan returns to the Vatican and reports on the weeping statue, his meanie of a boss, the authoritative Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce), informs that they have absolutely no record of either the priest or the church. Spooky, no? Even spookier, Byrne's quasi-agnostic holy man doesn't question his boss, at least not on this issue.
Far less enigmatic is the story's headlong rush to establish a forbidden fruit relationship between hip-but-tortured Frankie and the simpatico priest, replete with several steamy close-ups of tantalised lips separated by only one millimetre or less. Nice try. Body Heat goes ecclesiastical. Ho-hum.
Director Rupert Wainwright's interpretation of writer Tom Lazarus's odd assortment of seemingly disparate scare tactics isn't sure whether to be a religious monograph or a horror movie. At moments, a host of interesting ideas can be surprisingly thought provoking. And while the story's pronouncements are more disturbing than frightening, there are still enough things going bump in the night to give you a good case of the willies. However, failing to congeal, the film's two natures tend to cancel each other out. All that's left, then, is Stigmata's Big Secret. And to tell the gospel truth (hint, hint), it just wouldn't be good form after all to spill the proverbial beans, especially this late in the review.
Miss Arquette and Mr. Byrne realise only a modest amount of chemistry in attempting to establish their verboten love affair, noticeably limited by the material. But then we all know you can't get blood from a stone. Or can you?