January 31, 2002

The Mothman Cometh

Print More

After a huge disaster, stories pop up having to do with strange feelings that people had about the day or place, premonitions of a bad moon on the rise. These precognitions take any number of forms, from assertions of “I just didn’t feel right” to hearing voices foretelling of impending disaster. In the case of Mark Pellington’s The Mothman Prophecies, sometimes a premonition can take the form of an eight-foot-tall, red-eyed, winged creature that terrorizes an entire town.

The Mothman Prophecies is the latest installment in the genre of movies designed to scare the bejesus out of the public by capitalizing on the fact that, sometimes, the truth is stranger than fiction. Unlike its fake predecessor, The Blair Witch Project, no hoaxes have surfaced concerning The Mothman Prophecies’ credibility, actually making quite an eerie tale out of some freakishly strange events.

The movie stars Richard Gere as John Klein, a reporter who finds himself thrown into the myth and mystery that is the Mothman one strange night when he manages to drive the six hour trip from Washington DC to Point Pleasant, West Virginia in a mere ninety minutes. Klein is forced to the side of the road when his dashboard lights begin to blink like a Christmas tree, and his polite inquiries for help at the closest house leave him trapped in a stranger’s shower staring down the barrel of a shotgun. The plot continues to delve into the surreal as Klein is rescued by Sgt. Connie Parker, played by Laura Linney, who admits that “strange things” have been going on in Point Pleasant, and have been documented by a number of “good, church-going people,” lending credibility to the reality of the events.

Within this chain of extraordinary events, the acting of the main characters is merely adequate. Although Richard Gere’s classic features spend most of the movie’s running time peering at people, places, and pictures of the Mothman with a statement of intent and fearful confusion, his portrayal of a star reporter on the trail of a hot story is consistent, if not dynamic. Laura Linney’s depiction of the small town cop and local confidante is also satisfactory. Her lazy West Virginia drawl is, thankfully, much more enjoyable to listen to than the forced, grating twang that so many actors unsuccessfully affect when trying to sound authentic.

Some of the better performances come from supporting actors. Will Patton manages to give a very convincing presentation of the calm lunacy that settles onto a human directly contacted by the Mothman. In addition, Debra Messing’s brief appearance as Klein’s wife is surpassingly compelling; her fearful reaction to her early encounter with the Mothman transmits the beginnings of a sense of chronic unease to the audience.

In a tale of freakish events, it’s natural that certain aspects of the film besides the acting ability of the cast would add the most reality to the ambiance of the story. As the scenes are shot mainly in the dark or the wan light of the early morning in the stark months of winter, it is the direction which first sets the audience on edge. The audience is able to identify with the situations that the characters are in, creating a sense of freaking oneself out as one wonders who or what is waiting in a darkened corner or behind a fog-enshrouded tree. Effects are also of utmost importance. The actual Mothman is never seen clearly in the movie, and is only ever shown in drawings, giving the entity its necessary scare-tactic. Amorphous shapes seen only quickly in passing that leave details to one’s imagination are much more distressing than the anticlimactic computer generated monsters that grace so many thriller screens. Yet, it is the soundtrack that consistently and convincingly sets the audience members on the edge of their seats. Eerie modulations and the use of dissonance set the mood from the opening credits. However, the genius of the soundtrack is that it is never intrusive, but adds to the story subconsciously, jangling the nerves of the audience as a background harbinger of discomfiture.

The movie is entertaining as a thriller because of the serious case of the heebie jeebies that it gives the audience. The Mothman and its tale are eerie and unusual, but with some less than stellar performances by some stellar names, one finds more entertainment in the general feeling of uneasiness created by elements subordinate to the acting. Yet, this effect is what makes the movie a moderate success. The tale won’t make you jump fifteen feet in the air while in the theater, but you might be left wondering about that rather large bird you thought you saw sitting on your neighbor’s house the other night.

Archived article by Katie Porch