Saturday 12 January 2019

Movie Review: The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

A supernatural horror movie, The Mothman Prophecies offers flashy execution of a hopelessly muddled premise.

Washington Post reporter John Klein (Richard Gere) loses his wife Mary (Debra Messing) after she succumbs to a brain tumour in the aftermath of a car crash. Before she dies, she scribbles demonic images of a winged creature. Two years later and while on a business road trip, the still-grieving John inexplicably finds himself in the small town of Point Pleasant at the border between West Virginia and Ohio. He tangles with the highly-strung Gordon (Will Patton), and meets sympathetic local police officer Connie (Laura Linney).

Connie explains the townsfolk are reporting unusual events. Gordon claims to be communicating with a supernatural presence predicting future disasters. Others report sightings of a demon-like creature. John starts receiving garbled phone messages, as well as contact from the dead Mary. He reaches out to paranormal expert Alexander Leek (Alan Bates), who warns of a dire disaster to come.

Author John Keel published his book The Mothman Prophecies in 1975, claiming to be an investigation of real events and featuring a hodgepodge of supernatural phenomena including a winged Mothman creature and UFOs. It all culminates in the real 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge across the Ohio River.

The book is brought to the screen by director Mark Pellington with a script by Richard Hatem, who tries but fails to make some sense of the book, and at least takes out the UFO elements. The movie is all over the place and no place at the same type, literally and figuratively, playing with inexplicable time and geographic jumps. Spooky graphics and creatures make brief appearances but never quite enter the story, and strange voices issue doomsday warnings over distorted phone messages.

With the material unraveling quickly due to abject incoherence, Pellington leans heavily on style. The Mothman Prophecies at least looks good, with the supernatural elements poking in and out with pizzazz and sharp camera movement. In terms of mood the film never quite descends to all out horror, and settles more in unnerving territory.

Richard Gere is engaged enough to maintain a basic level of interest. Laura Linney is given precious little to do as the local police, and indeed hands over the investigative work to Klein, a stranger in her town. Will Patton is suitably unhinged as Gordon, always one wrong twitch away from harming someone.

The Mothman Prophecies chooses to explain almost nothing, leaving multiple interpretations available. The most likely explanation is dubious source material playing fast and loose with fact and fiction.

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