Janusz Madej, Frank Mavros, Michelle Renee Allaire
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Gabriel (Janusz Madej) is a con-artist. Posing as a psychic, he has learned the tricks of the trade and is able to convince his clientele that he brings them messages from beyond the grave. However, there's apparently a price to pay when one messes with all things spiritual and before long Gabriel begins to experience horrifying nightmares about the crucifixion only to awaken having experienced the stigmata. Turning to Father Nolan (Frank Mavros), Gabriel is forced to confront his own purpose and it is this purpose that is brought to the forefront when he encounters Olympia (Michelle Renee Allaire). Olympia is a desperate woman having just received word that she would not ever have children. Much to his own surprise, Gabriel does indeed the ominous future of Olympia and, for better and for worse, decides not to share what he has seen.
Stigma is written and directed by Janusz Madej as his thesis film at the Los Angeles Film School. The film is already proving to be a hit on the film festival circuit with appearances at L.A.'s Polish Film Festival and the Temecula Valley International Film & Musical Festival already in the bag. Stigma is a dark, intense thriller and Madej doesn't hold back despite the film's 29-minute running time and the inevitable challenges of producing a low-budget indie/student short. The truth is that if Madej didn't tell you that he's still in film school, you wouldn't guess it from his top notch handling of complex subject matter, a myriad of special effects and the rapidly paced editing that would prove challenging for virtually any filmmaker.
As Gabriel, Madej also proves himself solid on the camera though he's actually more convincing as Gabriel's facade begins to crack. Madej exudes early on the sort of cocky confidence one might expect from a young man who knows full well that he's really nothing more than a decently paid entertainer giving people exactly what they want. Madej's scene with Michelle Renee Allaire, as Olympia, is filled with tension and heightened drama as it's never completely clear exactly what's unfolding. In terms of performance, Allaire is the film's highlight, a heartbreaking blend of desperation and vulnerability.
The film's original score, on the other hand, threatens to sabotage the entire affair on more than one occasion. While it's a positive move to keep the film focused on a central theme, there are moments where the score threatens to overwhelm it. While the film is a crisp and taut effort at 29 minutes, there are also a couple of minutes that feel a bit extraneous and unnecessary and, in fact, will work against the film if Madej really hopes to reach a wider audience on the festival circuit due to its unnecessarily graphic nature.
However, a couple minor quibbles don't really detract from a promising effort from this obviously thought-provoking and gifted writer/director. For more information on Stigma, visit the film's website listed in the credits.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic