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The Mothman Prophecies

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Mothman Prophecies

Starring: Richard Gere, Laura Linney
Director: Mark Pellington
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: January 2002
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense

*Also starring: Debra Messing, Will Patton, Alan Bates, Lucinda Jenney, David Eigenberg

Review by Jerry Saravia
2 stars out of 4

"The Mothman Prophecies" is an example of low-grade horror with high-grade talent. It could easily have been called "The Mothman" and starred actors like John Saxon, and nobody would have given it a second look. With a bigger budget, a high-class star like Richard Gere and an Oscar nominee like Laura Linney, the temptation is to treat this film as if it were serious horror that builds with imagination and mystery. Imaginative and mysterious, yes, but watching this film can be a chore.

Richard Gere is John Klein, a respected reporter for the Washington Post. He is also something of a skeptic. He is about to move into his new house with his darling wife (Debra Messing, from TV's "Will and Grace") when an unusual, brutal car accident occurs. It is so brutal that the doctors discover Klein's wife has brain cancer and has only a short time before she passes away. She leaves some obscure drawings of a moth-like creature for him after her death (a creature she had seen just prior to the accident). Two years pass as Klein finds himself on a trip to Richmond, though he mysteriously ends up in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, a four-hundred mile trek he accomplishes in less than two hours! Naturally he has no idea how his travel plans got so screwy. His car breaks down. He asks for help from a seemingly crazed man (Will Patton) who brings out a shotgun! Nice neighbors! This man claims he has seen Klein before, knocking on his front door at 2:30 in the morning. He says he has also seen the Mothman, a figure with red eyes and sprouting wings who can see future catastrophes. One of the Mothman's obscure phrases relates to "99 lives" and the number 37. Klein gets a phone call from this Mothman, who knows of similar catastrophes, one involving a collapsing bridge. So the question is: what did Klein's wife see the night of the car accident? Who is this mothman, and why does he taunt people, particularly young couples making out in the backseat of their cars? Why are people who make contact with the Mothman getting eye rashes that don't go away? Does the police sergeant (Laura Linney, playing what seems to be the only police officer in town) know who this Mothman is, or is she just interested in getting Mr. Klein in the sack?

Based on a 1975 novel by John Keel, the first forty minutes of "Mothman Prophecies" is gripping because we are as interested as Klein is in discovering this phenomena. Unfortunately, director Mark Pellington ("Arlington Road") seems uninterested in keeping the audience in suspense without the benefit of overcaffeinated camerawork, grainy superimpositions, lots of shots of the red eyes of the mothman, and several other stylized effects. It's not that I mind such effects - I just do not see their purpose in a horror film that keeps its mystery ambiguous throughout. Consider how Roman Polanski might have helmed this film, sparing us of all the fanciful camera moves that have become du jour in horror since the late eighties. Some tracking shots and fast zoom-ins seem to indicate the point-of-view of the mothman, but is the mothman really circulating around Klein all the time? Who knows. The effects simply become repetitious, and whatever mystery exists is thrown out of the window when we realize that, prophecy or not, this mothman is just playing games with us.

I liked Gere's restrained performance, and I loved the scenes with Alan Bates as some sort of physics professor who knows the history of the mothman. These few scenes electrify our curiosity because they are not overplayed or heightened for any effect. Laura Linney seems completely wasted as the police sergeant - it is as if she is back playing insignificant roles prior to her great work in "You Can Count On Me." There is a creepiness to Will Patton, but most of the film is inert with loud sound effects to remind us that the mothman is near. My prophecy is that this film will be long forgotten. That is not the equivalent of a catastrophe.

Copyright 2002 Jerry Saravia

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