The Mothman Prophecies (2002) Movie Review

The Mothman Prophecies is based on a novel of the same name by John A. Keel, a real-life journalist who supposedly wrote about “true events” that occurred in the small town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1966. Depending on your perspective concerning UFOs and other strange unexplained “phenomenon” (i.e. are you a skeptic or a believer?), you’ll either think Keel is “full of it” or you’ll be relieved someone finally “found evidence” for what you always believed to be true. I’m somewhere in-between myself.

Richard Gere plays John Klein (not Keel, but Klein — huh?), a successful Washington Times reporter happily married to the pretty Mary (Debra Messing). The couple has just purchased a new house and is on their way home when they get into a car accident, caused by something Mary claims she saw. Flash-forward to two years later, with John, a widow for the last 2 years, still refusing to even entertain the thought of dating again. When John takes a trip out of town, he finds himself in the small town of Point Pleasant and has absolutely no idea how he got there.

It turns out Point Pleasant has become a hotbed of strange events, sightings, and what appears to be prophetic messages, all involving a “Mothman”-like creature that appears to only certain people and in the most mysterious ways. Pretty soon John and local cop Connie (Laura Linney) are being drawn into the web as they themselves are “contacted.” As John gets deeper and deeper into the mystery, will he learn the truth…or find his destruction…?

The Mothman Prophecies is one of the creepiest and atmospheric films I’ve seen in a long, long time. For sheer goosebumps, it ranks up there with The Sixth Sense. But whereas M. Night Shyamalan built The Sixth Sense on slow reveals and offscreen scares, Mothman goes the opposite route. Director Mark Pellington’s shot compositions go from slow longshots to cropped close-ups to quick flashcuts revealing images and scenes that refuses to show us everything. Pellington employs just the right amount of quick cuts and long takes at all the right times, so that Mothman never seems motionless, but at the same time never unfocused. It’s truly inspirational filmmaking.

The acting corp. is led by practicing Buddhist Richard Gere, who is actually not all that believable as a Washington Times journalist. Gere still has that “pep” in his walk that made him a star in American Gigolo, but regardless he seems grossly out of place in this role. Not that it matters much, since the subject matter and Pellington’s smooth and quick cameras are the actual stars of the film. Helping to inject some believability is Laura Linney (Connie), who displays the right amount of small-town charm and feminine vulnerability, all while packing heat. Laura’s many scenes with Gere show (with believability) their characters’ burgeoning friendship and the beginnings of a romance, although the movie never forces the issue. The two doesn’t even act on their feelings until the very end, and even then it’s a tentative move built on need.

Debra Messing has a small cameo in the beginning as Gere’s wife, and Messing proves to be quite a good actress, displaying a wide range of emotions that belies her cameo status. The rest of the cast includes the always affable Will Patton as Gordon, the small-town redneck who is quickly losing his mind and worst of all, seems to know it more than anyone else. Alan Bates is also very good as Leek, a writer of the paranormal who was once like Klein, and who Klein threatens to become if he isn’t careful. Leek’s brief conversations with Klein are very interesting and leave you thinking. I wished there were more scenes between the two men.

The credit for Mothman’s effectiveness as a creepy and atmospheric thriller goes to Pellington and cinematographer Fred Murphy and whoever edited the film. The movie moves in such a quick, brisk fashion, all interspersed with slow, elongated scenes. Hard to accomplish, but true. Pellington manages to tread the delicate balance between “too much” and “too little”, giving us “just right.” Even though we never see the “Mothman,” Murphy’s camera gives the impression that the Mothman is everywhere, anywhere, and nowhere.

Despite all of its great assets and effective scares, Mothman is strangely an empty film. Perhaps it’s the nature of adapting a nonfiction book, but Mothman has no real revelation or grand epiphany, nothing that would “tie up” all of the movie’s many mysteries. Sure, there’s a very exciting and elaborate ending sequence that bears out a lot of the mysterious prophecies, but what then? The film, probably so faithful to its original source material, that it takes no liberties by supplying an ultimate “answer.”

The Mothman Prophecies is a very effective and scary film, but unfortunately that’s all it is. It can overwhelm you with its mood and atmosphere, and there are plenty of scenes that will elicit some “bad vibes” while watching it (and afterwards while thinking about it.) Rather the “Mothman” is real or not, his — or is it its? — story made a heck of a good film.

Mark Pellington (director) / John A. Keel (novel), Richard Hatem (screenplay)
CAST: Richard Gere …. John Klein
Debra Messing …. Mary Klein
Tom Stoviak …. Real Estate Agent
Will Patton …. Gordon
Lucinda Jenney …. Denise
Laura Linney …. Connie Mills


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