This 2002 supernatural thriller is based on the true events of a 1967 disaster that struck a small town in West Virginia. It wasn’t a film I’d ever heard of and had read nothing of it before seeing it. The DVD was leant to me by a friend at work. I have serious problems with the idea, plot, direction and acting but my enjoyment increased the longer I stuck with it. Despite finding little pleasure for most of the two hours, by the end I was satisfied that I’d seen a fairly gripping and occasionally interesting thriller.
Two years after his wife’s death, newspaper columnist John Klein (Richard Gere) is driving south from Washington DC to Richmond, Virginia when his car breaks down. To his shock he discovers that he has broken down far west of where he thought he was and is in fact on the West Virginia – Ohio border, in the small town of Mount Pleasant. The town is home to some unexplained apparitions and premonitions which mirror those that plagued his wife in the hours before her death. People even begin drawing pictures that look like her own and when the predictions begin to come true, Klein attempts to track down the strange Mothman who is spotted all over town.
Although the film is based on the true events of a small town disaster which did in fact kill over forty people, there is little in the movie which I believe. Just because people say they see something unexplained and then a bad thing happens, doesn’t mean the two are connected. The character of the Mothman is something which is found in many different cultures but so are ghosts, fairies and gods. I had a big problem getting on board with the film because it sells itself as being true. There are obviously areas of truth in it but the rest is supernatural nonsense. I think I’d have enjoyed the film a lot more if it had been sold as a straight paranormal thriller. Instead there are notes both before and after the film which discuss the true events. This blurs both the reality and fiction.
The plot itself is sometimes interesting but only gripped me towards the end. I wasn’t particularly invested in any of the characters and have to be honest and say that I have no love for the actors. Richard Gere leads and is an actor I have few nice things to say about. How he has got by for thirty years with his chipmunk smile and overly blinking eyes, I don’t know. His wife is played by Debra Messing of Will & Grace fame but thankfully she dies early on. Laura Linney is an actress whom I do enjoy to see on screen but she is given very little to do besides investigate the odd event, provide exposition and act as a love interest in an under explored yet dragged out love story. Things unravel at a decent pace and I was intrigued by the strange happenings, apparitions and premonitions and the final twenty minutes are very good. I found the ending poor though and was left far too open. I have no problem with films that leave the audience with questions but this movie didn’t make me want to ask any, nor have any answered.
Early on in the film I had an issue with the direction. At the turn on the millennium, directors like David Fincher and Christopher Nolan were crafting edgy, intense thrillers like Seven, Memento and Fight Club. These films were dark, complex and interesting and had a very distinctive and gritty visual style. It sometimes feels as though The Mothman Prophecies is attempting the same style but fails to deliver. There’s unusual camera positioning, odd fades and wipes and some zooming techniques which look similar to those employed in the aforementioned films but look like cheep knock offs of the real thing. I found the direction distracting but I can’t say whether it bothered me because I wasn’t interested in the plot or if the plot didn’t interest me because I was distracted by the direction. Either way, both counteracted me enjoyment. Having said all that though, as the film progressed I found that the stylistic choices worked better and I began to enjoy them and the film more.
I feel as though I’ve been overly harsh on this movie and it certainly isn’t a bad film. The direction and style is interesting, if not always successful and the story reaches some interesting apexes before it veers off again. Richard Gere isn’t bad and any animosity I have towards him is purely my own problem. I wouldn’t watch the movie again but wouldn’t advise others to avoid it.
- The studio cut the film's budget by $2 million just days before shooting began.
- Director Mark Pellington has a cameo as a bartender and also the voice of the Mothman.
- The paranormal expert in the movie is called Leek, the reverse of the source text's author, Keel.