The Mothman Prophecies
review by Paula Nechak, 25 January 2002

While leaving for the press screening of The Mothman Prophecies I gleaned that a copy of Entertainment Weekly had come in the office mail. It contained a review of the film and while I would normally avoid reading anyone else's palaver, my eye zoomed in on the name "Nic Roeg" and the title, Don't Look Now wrapped in the text. This 1973 thriller, set in a leaking, musty and crumbling off-season Venice, full of rats, asymmetrical dark alleys and a serial killer, and based upon a novella by Daphne DuMaurier, is one of my all-time seminal movies. So I was piqued by a statement that professed The Mothman Prophecies was reminiscent of Roeg's ahead-of-its-time film.

Alas, outside of some very obviously borrowed ideas - the foreshadowing sound of church bells, breath streaming in the chill, pigeons spiraling upward en masse and the notion that guilt - colored red in both films - and compounded by unresolved psychic power which should abort tragedy, but ultimately causes it - the comparison is only thinly convincing.

That's not to say I didn't like the first ominous two-thirds of The Mothman Prophecies, a zinger of an entertainment that strives to weld art house austerity with non-cerebral starts and jolts and which is stylishly directed by Mark Pellington (Apt Pupil). It's full of fast cuts and sweeping shots and makes terrific use of the camera as eye of its primary character - a Washington Post reporter named John Klein (Richard Gere, less squinty than usual) - whose grief over his adored wife's (well-played by Debra Messing in a handful of scenes) death manifests itself in strange occurrences and visions of a "Mothman."

The Mothman Prophecies is based upon true events says the disclaimer at the start of the film. Indeed, in 1966, four people were parked at a lovers lane near Point Pleasant, West Virginia when all four saw two huge red eyes staring at them. This marked its first appearance, an eight-foot tall entity with large wings who hovered then flew off. It was a debut that culminated in a year or so of sightings by a hundred-plus different townfolk and which ended in a catastrophic event that may or may not have been connected with the emanation.

Pellington works from John Keel's investigative book, adapted by Richard Hatem and the result, while too far-reaching to maintain its first-half tension and set-up, is frequently, if nervously, enjoyable. Gere's John Klein is devastated when his beloved, Mary, glimpses "something" while they drive through a snowy Washington DC street, causing her to crash their car and landing her in the hospital. There she's diagnosed with a brain tumor. After she dies, John finds her notebook, full of sketches of a hulking, hooded creature.

Two years later he's on assignment, driving late at night to Virginia to interview an up-and-coming Democratic Presidential hopeful. His car stalls and when he knocks on the first available door at 2:30 in the morning he's received with a shotgun in the face and the claim that he has been there before.

The local sheriff, Sgt. Connie Parker (Laura Linney) arrives, finds Klein to be clean and accompanies him to a local motel where he learns he is nowhere near Virginia but in Point Pleasant, a comfy town nestled on the Ohio River near the West Virginia border. So, how could he have driven 400 miles in an hour and a half?

It takes great leaps of faith to follow the logic of "The Mothman Prophecies" and upon after-viewing reflection, there are chasms and gaps that defy reason and yet Pellington keeps the rope twisted so tightly for the first two-thirds that we're too tired to dare the dollops of disbelief that lie in front of us.

It's only in the final third, when we can't help but question what we've seen and wonder how this visually thrilling director will conclude his paranoid entertainment that the glaring holes seem bottomless and evident. Questions are left unanswered and characters hang and twist in the chilly breeze. There is little come-uppance to many of the plot points and the movie actually contains more than the grain of truth that allows a modicum of respectabilty gleaned from tags like "based on true events," we'll never know.

The ellipticalness gets the best of the film in the end, and in that, too, it's miles apart from Roeg's Venetian-based love and horror story. There's a full-circle, last moment purge that occurs in "Don't Look Now" which gives Donald Sutherland's John Baxter a slap for negating the second sight powers he has been blessed with but ignores, and in ultimately opening his eyes and becoming privy to his short-sightedness, suffers the ultimate. Roeg goes the book a step further with a final redemptive shot, a self-fulfilled prophecy of a last glimpse vision John had of his wife Laura, draped in mourning, gliding past on the Grand Canal.

The Mothman Prophecies barely rewards its characters with any such enlightenment. The script finally doesn't sustain itself and even Pellington's moody visual style can't salvage the anticlimax. Gere and Linney, keeping artfully modulated profiles, are stranded in Hollywood bad-ending purgatory. It's a shame for Pellington, who, up till then has made a ripping thriller. Too bad he couldn't prophetically have conjured a different ending from the volumes of information that the Mothman's mythology affords.

Directed by:
Mark Pellington

Starring:
Richard Gere
Laura Linney
Will Patton
Debra Messing
Shane Callahan

Written by:
John A. Keel
Richard Hatem

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.

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