DIRECTED BY: Mark Pellington
FEATURING: Richard Gere
PLOT: A Washington Post reporter loses his wife in an automobile accident,
then finds himself spirited away to a West Virgina town where the residents are spotting monsters and undergoing horrifying precognitive hallucinations.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Not weird enough. Taking its cues from parapsychology and cryptozoology, and positioning itself as a “true story,” The Mothman Prophecies paranoidly posits a world where omniscient Mothmen are simply a part of the natural order. I wouldn’t want to dishonor the producer’s sincere “the truth is out there” vision by suggesting there’s something a little weird about it. On a more serious note, The Mothman Prophecies is an effective chiller with a mildly unique spin on a conventional horror yarn that generates enough unease to make it worth checking out for fans of the eerie side of the weird, but it’s ultimately too lightweight and conventional to be more than a passing diversion.
COMMENTS: Director Mark Pellington, who previously explored themes of conspiracy and paranoia in the thriller Arlington Road, translates his talents to horror well and does a very fine job of pleasantly chilling the viewer’s blood through the early segments of the Mothman Prophecies. Unexplained occurrences, from an impossible car detour that lands our protagonist on the Ohio border with West Virginia to a yokel who swears he’s been visited by Richard Gere before, pile on top of each other until the viewer is pleasantly on edge and disoriented. When the antagonist is eventually revealed, his powers verge on the omnipotent and his motives lie firmly in the realm of the inscrutable. The conclusion ties things up in a nice little bow–sort of, because all the pieces resolved belong to subplots. The central mystery of the Mothman is never even touched, which frustrated viewers who crave nothing more than narrative cohesion but shouldn’t bother weirdophiles a bit. Despite its silly premise, Mothman is a highly effective unease-generating machine, which is (or at least, should have been) its only aspiration.
The “based on a true story” angle is patently a scam. Although it’s true that there were “Mothman” sightings in West Virginia in the 1960s and a bridge collapsed soon thereafter, anyone who doesn’t recognize the convenient presence of an attractive romantic foil for Richard Gere and the archetypal visit to the reclusive old wizard for a bit of exposition and dire warnings as the work of a screenwriter rather than a documentarian probably should be permanently ineligible for jury duty.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: