Hello, dear reader! Apologies for being away for so long! As I forewarned off the bat, a college student’s prayer. And given time and scheduling, I’ve elected to skip over my post-Halloween blog idea, so my hint at the end of “Trick ‘r Treat” is null and void. Apologies if you’ve been laboriously slaving over the answer for the last month. Perhaps this unimpeachable masterstroke of blog prose will offset any ill will. And also, hopefully, entertain and delight you, dear reader.
The Mothman Prophecies is a drama/horror/mystery film from director Mark Pellington with a screenplay written by Richard Hatem. The script is based on the book of the same name by John A. Keel. The story follows Washington Post reporter John Klein (Richard Gere), who investigates a series of strange happenings in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, after his wife Mary’s (Debra Messing) unexplained death. The people of Point Pleasant are experiencing bizarre visions and premonitions, claiming sightings of an 8-foot winged entity around town. Initially drawn into the drama under his own set of freaky circumstances, Klein begins to believe that whatever is happening in this small Mountain State town is connected somehow to his wife’s death.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this film’s story is its claim of being based on real events. The book that the script adapts, The Mothman Prophecies: A True Story, is categorized as nonfiction. The novel’s author, John Keel, who passed in 2009, was a journalist and Fortean author.
I know what you’re thinking. ,
“What the **** is a Fortean author?”
Well. Fortean, as defined by Lexico.com, relates to or denotes paranormal phenomena. Keel was a renowned ufologist and coined the term “men in black.” His 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies investigates (alleged) sightings of the titular being in Point Pleasant, WV, and its connection to the collapse of the Silver Bridge on December 15, 1967. Depending on your sensibilities, that either sounds beguiling as hell or straight crackpot. If that type of story vibes with you, cool. Do you. I’m a little less inclined to take this “true story” at face value. Don’t get me wrong; I love UFO stories and sci-fi, but I’m also a firm believer in hard science and quantifiability. But there’s no reason we can’t celebrate this stuff in good fun!
I want to believe.
Not really, though, because this is some scary ****.
So. The Mothman. What is it? What are its likes? Dislikes? Why a moth? And how has it maintained relevant holding in our collective interest for so long?
Let’s back it up a little.
The year: 1966. The place: Clendenin, WV, near Point Pleasant. A group of gravediggers working in a cemetery reported that on November 12, they saw a man-like shadowy figure fly over their heads from a nearby tree. Then, on November 15, a pair of couples described to the police a black figure with wings 10-feet wide and glowing red eyes chased their car near an old WWII munitions site colloquially dubbed “TNT Area.” Over the next year, sightings continued to roll in, with the local Point Pleasant Register even reporting on the aberrant incidents. The situation seemingly came to a head with the tragic collapse of the Silver Bridge in ‘67, which ran over the Ohio River, resulting in the loss of 46 souls. Following the accident, sightings of the winged beast pretty much came to an end in Point Pleasant. Kleen surmised that the Mothman sightings were a premonition of the disaster to come. His book and its eventual big-screen treatment would put the winged harbinger under a new shade of cultural attention.
The Mothman has become a modern-day urban legend. A fascinating figure with (alleged) ties to other catastrophes throughout history, with conspiracy theorists alleging Mothman’s appearance in Chernobyl before the reactor explosion and New York on 9/11. The actual Point Pleasant even hosts an annual Mothman Festival, a popular tourist attraction. So, yeah, the Mothman is a bit of a big deal. But is its movie worth watching?
The film is a bit of a mixed bag. There are moments of genuine excellence that, pardon the cliché, had me on the edge of my seat. But those instances are scattered amongst a trudging unfocused plot with some sound and visual effects that are so 2000s it’s painful. At its best, The Mothman Prophecies is David Fincher meets M. Night Shyamalan, a detective story that breaches the paranormal. Richard Gere is terrific as the wayward reporter John Klein, a man sifting through the rubble of loss as he stumbles upon the bewildering occurrences taking place in Point Pleasant. Klein teams with local officer Connie Mills (Laurie Linney) to search for answers about the strange being whose presence has plagued the small town. There’s a dogged nature to Klein, a curious streak that turns obsessive as he tries to wrap his head around the possibility of the existence of the Mothman (or Indrid Cold as it’s referred to in the film). The scenes when he’s on the hunt is where the movie shines. Director Mark Pellington has a solid grip on the script’s procedural aspect. He concocts an eerie, hair-raising mystery that peeks in a phone call confrontation between Klein and Cold that is so stupidly good; it’s a shame the film as a whole isn’t as on point as that scene. Otherwise, we’d have a potential classic on our hands.
As it stands, the movie feels too long. Around the point when it felt like it was winding down, the film kept going. It’s an extensive narrative, and it’s not even necessarily dull. The elements are interesting, and I never really found myself bored, but the structure needs tightening. If anything holds this movie back, it’s the dated editing effects. There is some fantastic camerawork on display, and the cinematography is sophisticated, but the film is overwrought with tacky transitions and sound mixing, especially early on. It can feel over the top and take away from the gritty thriller feel. The film works when it has its feet on the ground. Still, it’s an effectively creepy flick with numerous in-camera tricks that will be sure to tickle all you technical geeks in your sweet spot.
The film also makes good use of its lore. There’s no denying the absolute presence of the Mothman, aka Indrid Cold. We never get a full reveal of the monster, which is for the best. I can’t imagine that an eight-foot winged monster in the early days of digital effects would’ve been a cinematic high-mark. But the script goes full Mothman, touching on many points of its mythos. It’s played much as it is in Keel’s book, as a precog of terrible things. As the film makes with the spooky, its center rests on the story of a man trying to contend with the loss of his wife. It pulls at ethereal strands, drawing our focus onto that which we can’t control, and asks whether we accept it. It’s a characteristic of the film that separates it from most creature features. Typically in a monster movie, our heroes don’t have much driving them besides the need to destroy the beastie. But with Klein, he isn’t trying to exact death. He’s trying to prevent it. Trying to take the reigns over something that no human can. Grief can feel alien. It only makes sense that Klein must battle one to make sense of things.
Imperfect yet absorbing with a show-stopping finale straight out of a Final Destination picture, The Mothman Prophecies is a neat throwback feature that relies on tone and atmosphere rather than cheap shock-jock gimmicks. If you’re interested in taking a road less traveled, give it a shot. You may just like where you end up.
HINT: Tis the season to be ravaged by ghoulies.
— Chris J. Patiño, Film Blogger.
Chris J. Patiño is a senior at Lewis University, working toward a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism. Inspired at an early age by the late great Roger Ebert, he looks to follow in the footsteps of the acclaimed film critic and add his voice to the choir of movie discourse. As a Tempo reporter, Chris writes film reviews for The Lewis Flyer. He enjoys just about every film genre, but favorites include horror, sci-fi, and action. A lover of books, board games and the great outdoors, he spends most of his free time in worlds of fantasy and thought. Favorite authors include Stephen King and Jim Butcher, with favorite novels being The Dresden Files series, the Harry Potter series, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and All the President’s Men.