IN "STIGMATA," hairdresser Frankie Paige is not only suffering otherworldly visions. She's having a heck of a time with exit wounds.
Frankie (Patricia Arquette), a sweet-natured soul who does not believe in God, has begun experiencing sacred manifestations of the stigmata -- the five wounds suffered by Jesus Christ during the crucifixion.
These injuries occur without apparent physical cause. One moment she's in the bath, the next, she's got bloody holes in her wrists.
Rushed to the hospital, she tries unsuccessfully to convince medical workers this was no suicide attempt. Her spontaneous wounds continue, one series of them at a time. After the holes in her wrists, she experiences whip marks on her back. Then, thorn wounds on her face . . .
Actually, Frankie's mother just sent her a rosary she picked up in Brazil, a gift once owned by Father Paulo Alameida (Jack Donner), a priest who was on to something big before he died. Something so big, in fact, that one of the statues in his church has been bleeding steadily from the eyes, causing huge crowds to gather.
Enter Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne), an emissary from the Vatican who visits that bleeding statue and believes it might be the real thing.
By the way, Byrne's the best-looking, best-dressed priest in the movies since Montgomery Clift in "I Confess." Excellent haircut. Totally awesome coat. Still can't deal with being without women. One studly man of the cloth. Apparently, part of the Vatican's MTV Outreach Program.
When Kiernan makes his report, a Vatican meanie called Cardinal Daniel Houseman (Jonathan Pryce) refuses to believe it. He tells Kiernan to forget the whole thing and investigate this Frankie Paige matter in the United States. But once again, Kiernan thinks he's on to something.
If this movie teaches us anything, it's that Rupert Wainwright's direction is far thicker than stigmatic blood.
Is there an eighth deadly sin called "narcissistic direction"? I guess it would go under "pride." You never saw such an orgy of overwrought stylistics. Musically, the soundtrack is shrouded with pop-style doom and gloom, a hipster's cacophony of rhythm and ruse. Wainwright, whose head might rotate if I whispered "subtlety" too loudly, meets nothing he can't render in a monstrous close-up, or a doubled image, or in extreme slow motion. It's a miracle our eyes don't bleed.
When there's a possible deity in the air, he cues the fluttering pigeons -- or are they doves? And he seems to have studied "The Exorcist" a little too closely. We get fuzzy silhouettes in the murky light, women speaking in nasty, male tongues, a priest offering himself as -- all right, no giveaways.
The point is, credibility flies out the stained glass window with all those pigeons. And the deeper we get into this story, the more we want to take flight ourselves.
STIGMATA (R, 102 minutes) -- Contains violence, representations of stigmata, bloody images, partial nudity, profanity and obscenity. Area theaters.