The Mothman Prophecies draws people to theatres with its catch phrase that both intrigues and horrifies–simply, “Based on true events.” The film stars Richard Gere as Washington Post journalist John Klein, who finds himself mysteriously connected to a number of tragedies that have all been foreseen by a monster-like entity known only as “the mothman.” The film is set in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, but the ending credits allege that sightings of this ‘mothman’ have continued internationally, and that its predictions of tragedies have continued to be accurate.
The Mothman Prophecies starts with a glimpse at John Klein’s picture-perfect American life. Not only is he a successful journalist for one of the nation’s leading newspapers, but he also has a beautiful wife (played by Debra Messing, of Will and Grace fame), and enough money to buy them both a grotesquely large home. In predictable Hollywood fashion, the two-dimensional perfection of Klein’s life comes to a startling halt one unfortunate night when his wife is in a car accident, and shortly thereafter becomes deathly ill. Beside her deathbed (which is far too early into the movie for those viewers who went specifically to see Messing in a dramatic role), Klein finds inexplicable sketches of an eerie moth-like creature, his first ‘sighting’ of the mothman.
A couple of years later, Klein finds himself in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, having no recollection of how he arrived there. It is in this town that Klein finds other drawings similar to the ones that were near his wife’s deathbed, and he hears stories of bizarre sightings of a prophetic ‘mothman’ who hovers at about eight feet tall. Klein befriends Connie Parker, a local police officer (Laura Linney), who attests to the stories of these sightings, and convinces him that they are not just the tellings of delusional folk. Will Patton gives an impressive performance as one of the locals who is psychologically tormented by the mothman.
The eerie atmosphere created throughout The Mothman Prophecies is certainly the film’s greatest strength. It is full of unnerving camera angles, quickly moving shots, and a foreboding darkness that is bound to frighten even the most diehard buffs of scary movies. What these buffs will not look favorably upon, however, are the shocking number of ‘horror’ cliches that are used in the screenplay – the scary voice on the other end of the phone, the run-down motel reminiscent of the setting of Hitchcock’s Psycho, and the conveniently-located expert (Alan Bates) who knows everything there is to know about monsters. These cliches make it difficult to remember that the film is supposed to be non-fictional in its premise.
Adding to that difficulty is the fact that the character of John Klein is a fictional one, a creation of the film’s screenwriter, Richard Hatem. Hatem based the character on accounts given by John Keel, who originally wrote the book, The Mothman Prophecies, in 1975. If complete characters can be fabricated, who is to say that the sinister atmosphere in the film is not also a construction used to make the film more box-office friendly?
Richard Gere is not entirely believable as a man haunted by a creature that predicts great destruction. There are only a few fleeting moments when any amount of terror emanates from Klein, such as when he frantically disconnects the phone to prevent receiving phone calls from the mothman and when he discovers that Linney’s character has seen the ghost of his wife.For somebody who makes a living out of writing factual stories, Klein accepts the existence of this supernatural monster far too easily. Gere sports a look of numbness throughout most of the film, which may have worked well opposite Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, but fails miserably here. Where is the skepticism? Where is the fear?
Director Mark Pellington (Arlington Road, Going All the Way) claimed that he wanted to make a movie that was psychologically frightening. Perhaps he would have fared better with a lead actor whose psychological states project more readily from the screen. Linney’s role as Connie Parker is an underdeveloped one.She bares a proud strength to Klein with her insistence that her small town roots do not make her a country bumpkin. But while Linney is plausible as this feisty, yet understanding, police officer who listens to the horror stories of the town folk, feeble screenwriting makes it impossible to connect much further to the character.
Good set design and cinematography lend the film some scariness at times, but in the end there are just too many holes in the script and the acting to believe in the authenticity of the mothman.
– Christi Davis