The Mothman Prophecies

Like a moth to a flame, director Mark Pellington’s supernatural thriller “The Mothman Prophecies” disintegrates in front of our very eyes. Based on the non-fiction best seller by John A. Keel , supposedly based on true events that plagued a small West Virginia town, “The Mothman Prophecies” will disappoint anyone looking for a good scare.

Pellington, the director of “Arlington Road,” does manage to generate a modicum of suspense, and gets decent support from actors Richard Gere, Laura Linney, and Alan Bates, but in the end the film lacks the moth balls needed to raise goose flesh. Like most modern studio horror films, “The Mothman Prophecies” looks sharp, but it’s all dressed up with no place to go.

More urban legend than fact, the events in “The Mothman Prophecies” seem tired, an anemic inventory of horror film moments that never come together as a whole. Even though the actors approach their roles with total conviction, the script by Richard Hatem fails to do likewise. Hatem raises more questions than he’s capable of answering, creating frustrating lapses in logic and plotting.

The characters in “The Mothman Prophecies” experience premonitions and then something bad happens, but that’s not scary. Every time I see Chuck Norris on a theater marquee, I know something horrible is going to happen inside. That’s scary.

What the characters see is a moth-like creature with glowing eyes. The creature, nicknamed Mothman by the locals, hovers over the small West Virginia town of Point Pleasant like death in “Darby O’ Gill and the Little People,” a spooky apparition that always brings bad news.

For Washington Post reporter John Klein (Gere), bad news seems like an old friend. As “The Mothman Prophecies” begins, Klein and his wife Mary (Debra Messing of “Will & Grace”) have just sealed a deal on the brownstone of their dreams. Their happiness doesn’t last long when Mary swerves to miss something in the road and ends up in the hospital, where they learn that Mary has an incurable brain tumor and quickly dies.

Two years later, Klein finds himself driving to Virginia for an interview when he inexplicably winds up in Point Pleasant. Not only can’t Klein explain why he’s there, he can’t figure out why the man he seeks help from claims that he’s been there several times before. Klein then turns to local cop Connie (Laura Linney) for assistance, who recounts the numerous sightings of a moth- like creature and weird premonitions of death. Realizing that the local apparition is the same one that caused his wife to drive off the road, Klein sets out to convince himself that there has to be a logical explanation. The more he digs the more Klein believes that something sinister is taking place. He receives freaky phone calls that lack human voice patterns, and experiences a premonition that something awful is going to happen to the town.

The actual events happened in 1966-67, and the filmmakers make a big mistake by setting the film in the present. It would have been a lot easier to swallow most of this if the film were set in 1966. By setting it in the present, the characters are forced to do things that don’t make sense. Are we supposed to believe that Klein can just blow off his job without any repercussions? It’s hard to care about the characters when the writer doesn’t.

Director Pellington claims he wanted to make a psychological thriller rather than a creature film, and he has succeeded. Except for a couple fleeting glimpses, we only see the creature through the thoughts of the characters. That would be fine if the characters had an original thought on their minds, but they don’t.

Gere is fine as the doubting Thomas who has no choice but to accept what he has seen and heard, while Linney looks official in her “Fargo” police uniform. It’s a reunion for Gere and Linney, who were much more convincing and effective in the courtroom thriller “Primal Fear.” Gere attempts to imbue the same intensity into the role of Klein, yet we know he’s just blowing hot air over an ice cube.

Messing fares best of all, and not just because she gets to leave the film early. Her Mary is filled with life, which makes her untimely death all the more tragic. Will Patton goes nuts as a rifle- toting local who can’t understand why Klein keeps harassing him, and Alan Bates is extremely underused as the physics professor who lost everything, including his family, because of his connection to the Mothman.

Pellington, who created an underlying suburban tension in “Arlington Road,” fails to sweep us up into Klein’s horrific situation. While we may be with Klein on his trip, we’re like the kids in the backseat of the station wagon on the way to some obscure uncle’s house: we don’t care what happens as long as we finally get there.

“The Mothman Prophecies” looks like a supernatural thriller, largely thanks to Fred Murphy’s unnerving cinematography that is much creepier than anything going on inside the frame, and Richard Hoover’s detailed production design that has that Stephen King small town quaintness to it. You just wish the writer and director had the same vision.

THE MOTHMAN COMETHSupernatural thriller refuses to shift into high Gere


Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Will Patton, Debra Messing, Alan Bates, Lucinda Jenney. Directed by Mark Pellington. Rated PG-13.


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