starring Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Will Patton, Debra Messing
screenplay by Richard Hatem, based on the novel by John A. Keel
directed by Mark Pellington
by Walter Chaw Inviting comparisons to "The X-Files" (comparisons the series made inevitable by setting several of its episodes in rural West Virginia and making mention of the "mothman" in an excellent fifth season episode called "Detour"), Mark Pellington's The Mothman Prophecies has a peculiarly muted quality to it that suggests the entire piece is best seen as shrouded in a caul. Allied with that idea, The Mothman Prophecies is about knowing certain things of the future and exorcising the past, about accepting that there are things in life that can't be prevented. It's got heady messages for a film based on a cultish bit of crypto-zoology reportage by John Keel (documenting eerie events in Point Pleasant, WV that stretched thirteen months from November 15, 1966 to December 15, 1967), and ultimately the relatively lightweight genre bedrock of the piece is not strong enough to support its broad philosophizing.
The film works best as an allegory of what men fear: loss of family, loss of profession, loss of respect, loss of sanity (resembling in this aspect the suburban unease of the director's Arlington Road), going so far as to cast a woman (Laura Linney) as the film's only representative of order. Unfortunately, Pellington departs from the source material's potential, making the decision to romanticize the events of the book by appending them with a love fantasy resolution. Ironically, this manufacture is so inconsequential and rote that what the filmmakers hope will tie their film together is a mere nattering and easily overlooked distraction that does little to support or enervate the power of the apocalyptic images and ideas on parade.
John Klein (Richard Gere) is a journalist for the Washington Post whose wife (Debra Messing) dies of a rare brain tumour following a car accident in which she swerved to avoid a spectral shape. Assuming her the victim of hallucinations, years pass and John Klein finds himself mysteriously transported one night to a remote West Virginian farm, where the bellicose occupants swear that he's been paying the same visit three nights running. Soon, John finds himself embroiled in the strange sightings and crank calls occurring at the tiny town of Point Pleasant, teaming with local cop Sgt. Parker (Linney) to get to the heart of the winged "mothman" and its titular prophecies of doom.
The Mothman Prophecies is a self-reflexive discussion of the ways in which popular culture assimilates supernatural archetype. By its very existence it begs the question of whether this (or the upcoming Kevin Costner vehicle Dragonfly) would even have been considered if not for the success of the supposedly non-influential The Blair Witch Project: a mainstream horror film that flies in the face of conventional genre wisdom (at least since The Exorcist) in refraining from gore as steadfastly as it refuses to show its bogeyman. In other words, The Mothman Prophecies is a film dealing with the popular suffusion of supernatural phenomena that is itself a product of the popularization of a supernatural film phenomenon.
All implication, with its worrying over of physical and emotional causes for mental illness, The Mothman Prophecies finds credibility in its willingness to suggest that everything could be a grief-inspired psychosis, and it searches for resonance in the platitude that despite one's best intentions, terrible things sometimes happen to good people. There are extremely effective moments: Will Patton's grizzled backwoods loner relating a dream wherein he looks into his bathroom mirror to find someone else staring back (powerful in a way that a similar conceit in Vanilla Sky just isn't) as well as the trailer-revealed conversation between John and the mothman spring immediately to mind. It is a difficult film to like for its slow pacing and somnambulant performances, but it earns a minor recommendation for the courage to be about thornier issues. Just as the Blair Witch Project is most instructive as a fable for a consumer society, The Mothman Prophecies is best when illustrating the demons bedevilling the modern masculine journey. It's a shame that it occasionally compromises its cheerless dirge in favour of a few minor resolutions. Originally published: January 25, 2002.
by Bill Chambers Originally announced as a Special Edition, The Mothman Prophecies fell victim to a bait-and-switch when it was issued in a plain-wrap DVD last year, and now that a feature-loaded 2-disc set has arrived, two questions surface: Was it worth the wait? and, Is it worth the upgrade? The answers are dependent upon how big a fan you are of the movie or its director, Mark Pellington, but I can offer that while the SE's supplementary material is intriguing, the film's transfer exhibits no technical improvements on that of the pre-existing disc. Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, The Mothman Prophecies looks splendid--those outdoor close-ups of Alan Bates are as intricately detailed as I've ever seen a DVD image. Alas, Fred Murphy's cinematography isn't always as aesthetically graceful as Pellington seems to be aiming for, and the sound is crisp yet sometimes too obnoxious for its own good. On the other hand, I found little fault with Pellington's rich commentary track, a scattershot but ultimately rewarding marriage of thematic survey and production backstory embedded with a pithy defense for the practice of letterboxing.
Disc 2 contains a trio of in-depth featurettes. "Search for the Mothman" (43 mins.) recounts the events of the film as they allegedly happened back in 1960s Point Pleasant, West Virginia. The man on whom Richard Gere's character is based, John A. Keel, puts in an appearance, as do several eyewitnesses and researcher Loren Coleman. It's definitely a more sci-fi tinged account than the fictionalized version, with clandestine visits from the "Men in Black" and mysterious, conveniently-timed deaths, though the piece is undone by two-cent re-enactments that are impossible to take seriously. As for film-themed extras, there's the two-part "Day By Day: A Director's Journey" (60 mins. total), a self-indulgent video diary of the shoot (co-directed by Pellington and Jason Frees) that begins with Pellington earnestly addressing the camera regarding that which we're about to witness: "The ultimate collision of art and commerce." Groan.
Because The Mothman Prophecies is a PG-13 affair, Pellington is bleeped to hell, and since if he's not swearing, he's smoking, it makes for a documentary harder on the ears than an episode of "The Osbournes". There's a great moment where Pellington kicks his office door after the studio shaves $2M from his budget, but he's such an ostentatious personality here it's difficult to muster sympathy for him as the bean counters close in. (Lectured by executive producer Richard Wright for ordering too many unplanned camera set-ups, Pellington barks, "Didn't you read my manifesto?!") Fans of HBO's "Project Greenlight" should enjoy this unflattering portrait of ego-driven filmmaking. Five deleted scenes (the most notable of which shows a town enraptured by UFO lights in the sky, a phenomenon mentioned in "Search for the Mothman" and Keel's source book but otherwise left out of the screen adaptation), trailers for The Mothman Prophecies, Formula 51, and xXx, cast/crew filmographies, and the striking, Pellington-helmed video for Low with tomandandy featuring Indrid Cold's "Halflight" round out the Columbia TriStar package. Originally published: May 10, 2003.