The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
I probably should learn not to trust the opinions of people I don’t know. Going only on a few throwaway remarks I’d read online about a particular sequence in this movie being the most unnerving the authors had ever seen, I leapt onto the interwebs to read into it.
The plot seemed intriguing enough. Two years after a mysterious moth-like figure caused a car crash that resulted in the death of his wife, journalist John Klein (Richard Gere) inexplicably finds himself in a small backwater town nine hours from his native New York, with no idea how he got there. However, it appears the residents of the town have seen Klein roaming the streets of Point Pleasant before, despite the fact that he had never visited the place. After hearing that the moth-like figure has also been sighted there, Klein teams up with a local police officer, Connie Mills (Laura Linney), and starts to unravel the history behind the Mothman to try and discover what his purpose is.
My curiosity piqued, I ordered it. A few days later it arrived and I eagerly put it on, looking forward to being thoroughly creeped out. What followed then was certainly engaging, but sadly not the nerve-jarring rollercoaster I was led to believe.
The Mothman Prophecies isn’t a bad movie by any stretch. In fact, it’s quite entertaining. The trouble is, it isn’t a horror film. To me, a horror movie at least requires a presence – whether physical or otherwise – to generate a feeling of fear both in the characters and the audience, but this is where The Mothman Prophecies is lacking. Short of a few unsettling moments it’s just not scary. Which is a real shame. It could potentially have been quite an unsettling horror film about the eponymous cryptozoological Mothman, but instead he barely makes an appearance at all. It’s like A Nightmare on Elm Street without Freddy. Or The Thing without the…thing. As a result, the film seems more like a psychological thriller than a horror movie, and that’s where it disappoints. There’s barely any tension in The Mothman Prophecies because you rarely feel like Klein is under threat from anything. Sure, there’s the Mothman himself, but he’s spooky in a vague sort of way. A little like Lady Gaga.
That said, though, there are certainly some great moments in the movie and director Mark Pellington demonstrates his ability to keep things subtle, hiding brief flashes of the Mothman throughout the movie. Similarly from a cinematographic perspective there are some smart match cuts, allowing certain shapes and figures to echo across shots; and the camerawork compliments the moody lighting well.
You have to feel sorry for John Klein though. It’s like The Mothman Prophecies exists to screw him over; within the first half hour, he loses both his wife and house, and he’s nearly shot and arrested. Richard Gere plays the part suitably low-key and melancholic, and it’s certainly a relief to see a character that treats their investigation with caution, knowing how bat-shit crazy they may seem to other people.
It is an honest shame. The Mothman Prophecies certainly had potential. I just couldn’t quite work out where it was going; was it about a mysterious creature known to portend disaster, or the disaster itself? Had the film diverted its focus on just one of those avenues (preferably the former) then perhaps it could have been a better film. But as it stands, it’s certainly not bad, just…unfocused.
A little like Lady Gaga.