The Mothman Prophecies
Screenplay : Richard Hatem (based on the book by John A. Keel)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Richard Gere (John Klein), Laura Linney (Sgt. Connie Parker), Will Patton (Gordon), Debra Messing (Mary Klein), Shane Callahan (Nat Griffin), Alan Bates (Alexander Leek)
The Mothman Prophecies is an effectively creepy supernatural chiller, but it is best taken as straight fiction, rather than in connection with the events that purportedly took place in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, between 1966 and 1967. Granted, Point Pleasant is the location where most of the movie takes place, and the script by Richard Hatem, based on a book by journalist John A. Keel, weaves in factual events, but the movie is largely a fictional construction that uses a documented unsolved phenomenon as a launching point for its distinctly movie-like thrills.
The story is updated to the present time, and the main character, an intrepid Washington Post reporter named John Klein (Richard Gere), is a completely fictional creation. Klein becomes involved in the strange goings-on in Point Pleasant when he mysteriously ends up there one night after going hundreds of miles off-course during his intended drive to Richmond, Virginia. There he learns of the "Mothman" of the title, which refers to a large, eight-foot humanoid creature with glowing red eyes and enormous wings that dozens of people claim to see throughout the movie.
At this point, Klein has already had a run-in with the Mothman in Georgetown two years earlier, when he and his wife Mary (Will & Grace's Debra Messing) had a car accident in which she saw something that he didn't. It was discovered at the hospital that Mary had a brain tumor, and after she died, Klein found a notebook filled with sketches of a large, dark, winged creature with bright red eyes. (In retrospect, it seems awfully contrived that, despite its evocation of the isolation of the haunted rural town, the movie makes the Mothman so mobile that it haunts the wealthy streets of Georgetown, as well.)
In Point Pleasant, Klein is faced with a number of baffling questions. Not only is he perplexed as to how he got there (he somehow drove 300 miles in less than an hour and a half and doesn't remember any of it), but a local man named Gordon (Will Patton) accuses him of having stalked him for the past three nights. In his search for the truth, Klein becomes involved with a local cop, Connie Parker (Laura Linney), who tries to maintain an air of rationality despite all the increasing weirdness, which also includes the ghostly return of Klein's wife and strange telephone calls in which the Mothman offers prophetic glimpses of disasters to come.
Director Mark Pellington (Arlington Road) allows The Mothman Prophecies to play out as essentially an extended episode of The X-Files, with the focus on the pop-culture tingles of urban legend and modern myth (strangely, the movie doesn't make much of the legends in Point Pleasant involving a supposed curse by a Native American chief who was murdered there). As it is inspired by an unsolved supernatural case, the movie brings up many more questions than it can possibly answer, and one of its weaknesses is the seemingly unconnected nature of many of its plot strands.
Pellington generates a good, creepy atmosphere throughout the movie, especially in his expert use of framing and shadows, but much of the screenplay he's working with doesn't seem to connect up plot points (the reintroduction of Klein's wife as a ghostly presence seems particularly forced). It often feels like the movie is simply exploiting any narrative convention it can with the reassurance that, since the real-life Mothman mystery has never been explained, there is no real need in the end to answer anything. Instead, it toys with kooky paranoid movie conventions for their own effectiveness--telephones that ring even though they're disconnected, garbled voices in the night, and, most important of all, the slow and steady devolution of a rational man into a paranoiac afraid to look over his own shoulder.
The Mothman Prophecies ends with a stunning disaster climax that will come as no surprise to anyone who knows the real-life history of Point Pleasant. It's a gut-wrenching sequence that seems at once completely out of place with the rest of the movie, but also a logical climax to everything that has been occurring. It brings the movie to a shattering peak, ending with an incredible high-angle shot looking down on the Ohio River with the ghostly beams of dozens of car headlights shining up through the water into the night sky. Like much of the movie, it's an effective visual that works more on its own than as a true exploration of unexplained phenomena. The Mothman Prophecies will generate genuine chills, but don't expect answers and don't expect anything resembling an examination of what really might or might not have happened in West Virginia in 1966.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick