By Vijay A. Bal
The Mothman Prophecies begins with some intriguing title credits—unfortunately, it pretty much rolls downhill from there. The film stars Richard Gere (who seems to have reached the pinnacle of his acting career with Robert Altman’s sorely underrated Dr. T and the Women) as John Klein, a star reporter for The Washington Post who loses his wife (Debra Messing) in a car accident that may or may not have been predicted by a mysterious Mothman. A certain spark, courtesy of director Mark Pellington, energizes these opening scenes: the car accident itself is well-staged and slightly creepy, but the rest of the film lacks the tension required of a successful thriller. The film also lacks the elements required of a successful paranormal mystery; consequently, the whole movie falls into a sort of dead zone.
After his wife’s death, Klein is sucked into the mystery behind the Mothman. Due to some mysterious twists of fate, he spends the better part of the film’s latter half investigating Mothman sightings in a small town in West Virginia. Luckily, Klein soon finds a partner, Sgt. Connie Parker, to help him unravel the mystery behind the Mothman. Along the way, the two encounter many townspeople who claim to have seen, and in some cases spoken to, the Mothman. Sgt. Parker is played by Laura Linney, who brings the same subtlety and sense of timing to Prophecies that she lent to her Academy Award-nominated role in You Can Count on Me.
Since this film is allegedly a supernatural thriller-cum-mystery, it would be unfair of me to go into any further plot details. I will say that, by the movie’s end I was left feeling empty. The final set piece is well-staged, but by that point I was so disinterested in the mystery surrounding the Mothman that I became involved in the film solely on a technical level. Though the idea of a Mothman that predicts and may cause disasters is somewhat interesting, the film fails to build any significant tension or interest with regard to its title character. Another detracting factor is that since the film is based on true events (though probably loosely), the audience knows that the film must maintain a certain element of realism, which detracts from the suspense that could be derived from a purely fictional supernatural film.
Pellington, who helmed the mediocre Arlington Road, is competent, but his style seems a little too flashy for the material. Between every scene Pellington uses loud disjointed transitions, and though this is somewhat interesting at first, it soon becomes clear that he only does so because he has no clue how to segue from one scene to another. He also fails to set the proper tone and atmosphere, both of which should be vital in Mothman. Another problem is that his obvious visual tricks—superimposing images, Mothman-like figures and red eyes scattered all over, quick camera movements to emphasize urgency—never really build the sense of paranoia or tension it intends to, instead disconnecting the viewer from the film.
In the end, if Mothman is neither a thriller nor paranormal mystery, the question arises: what type of film is it? It is based on the kind of story that may be interesting to read a few blurbs about in the back of your local paper, but it certainly cannot support a feature film; any interest in the film’s so-called mysteries dissipate quickly. It is also the type of film that has no faith in its audience, reiterating the same points. Lines such as, “Whatever brought you here brought you here to die,” represent the film’s epitome of chilling dialogue. However, all of that having been said, Mothman is not a completely bad film; it just never really engages the viewer. By the end, audiences will be ready to chalk up many of the film’s occurrences to mere coincidence. This is Mothman’s primary shortcoming—though it tries to raise a lot of questions, in the end I didn’t care what the answers were. What I really wanted to know is what Linney was doing wasting her talent on this mediocre picture, how many different ways Gere could grimace in one film in a vain attempt to emote or, perhaps the greatest question of all, why this film was ever made...Now that’s a real unsolved mystery.
THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES