THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES
Director: Mark Pellington
Cast: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Will Patton, Debra Messing, Lucinda Jenney, Alan Bates
MPAA Rating: (for terror, some sexuality and language)
Running Time: 1:59
Release Date: 1/25/02
Buy Related Products
Review by Mark Dujsik
When a movie (or anything, for that matter) containing supernatural events claims to be based on actual events, my cynicism radar goes up. The Mothman Prophecies is based on the 1975 novel by John A. Keel in which he reports the paranormal happenings that he experienced firsthand in Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1967. The movie version places the occurrences in the present day but leaves the culminating event (which would be unfair to reveal) the same as it happened over thirty years ago. Whether or not the story has any resemblance to actual events is unimportant. The Mothman Prophecies is a fascinating and atmospheric new-age thriller that relies on a steady build of clues and a feeling of uneasiness about where these clues will ultimately lead. The movie takes the same path that some of the more successful horror films of the past few years, such as The Sixth Sense and The Others, have taken. Itís not about scares but a mood in which an ominous, pervasive, and unknown threat lurks just below the proceedings and adds an almost constant mindset of suspense.
John Klein (Richard Gere) is a reporter for the Washington Post. Soon after buying a house with his wife Mary (Debra Messing), the two are involved in a car accident, and while recovering from her injuries, the doctors discover that Mary has a rare type of brain cancer. She dies soon after and leaves John with a series of drawings depicting a strange, winged creature, which Mary says she saw the night of the accident. Two years later, John is still a reporter, now on the story of upcoming presidential nominees. On his way from D.C. to Richmond, Virginia, John inexplicably winds up in Point Pleasant with a breakdown. He walks to the house of local Gordon Smallwood (Will Patton) who is convinced that John has been appearing at his house for the past few nights. A local police officer Connie Parker (Laura Linney) helps clear up the misunderstanding and tells John about strange reports throughout the town. A series of townsfolk have reported seeing strange things, and John ties these visions to the one his wife had. As his investigation unfolds, it seems as though the "creature" may be revealing things to come.
The story manages to be engrossing even though (or because) itís not entirely clear how it will progress. The film establishes a set of rules for itself and, for the most part, follows them. There are certainly some rough edgesópossibly holes. Weíre never entirely sure how John arrived in Point Pleasant, and itís never completely clear how his wifeís death ties into the whole thing on a story level. When itís finally revealed that precognition is the main dramatic arc of the film, weíre left with even more questions. Why does John become the central figure in the activities in Point Pleasant? Why is Gordon the only citizen to have communication with the creature? Weíre left with many questions, and for the most part, I enjoyed that level of ambiguity. Johnís conversations with an author on the subject played by Alan Bates shed some light on the past history of "Mothman," and certainly add a new level of eeriness when itís revealed that the forceís motivations are neither good nor evilósimply impartial.
Director Mark Pellington effectively establishes and maintains the tone of the film. There is a hidden level just beneath the surface in which all of the misgivings about the storyís ultimate course compress into a palpable sense of suspense. The surface, however, is glossy and occasionally betrays the tone. Pellington seems to be in competition with himself to make each new shot as interesting or unique as the one that came before it. I wonder if he was unsure of the material at hand and in effect tried to convert it to typical horror standards. It suffers from stylistic overkill, but at times, it works. I enjoyed the appropriately frenetic pacing of the conclusion, and despite the abundance of tricks used, they all stay consistent to the overall look of the film. Despite some misguided stylistic choices, the underlying suspense remains.
The movie is also aided by a strong performance from Richard Gere. Gere is one of those stars who is capable of turning out a very good performance when needs be. His presence manages to keep our interest throughout the film, but he takes his role a step further. He manages to keep his characterís grief always in mind. Itís actually a tricky performance when you think about it, but Gere is very effective. His performance allows the film to have quiet moments, and thereís a touching scene near the end when he must choose between his past and his future. Laura Linney is the other major talent in the film, and though she is underused, she is also more than effective.
The Mothman Prophecies does not enlighten upon the subject of clairvoyance, but it uses it to create a surprisingly effective thriller. Given the questionable accuracy of the source material, the plot questions, and the tendency towards a style unbecoming the material, itís all the more a surprise. If anything, it will certainly leave you intrigued about the true-life events that inspired it.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.