×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Mothman Prophecies

Like a thing foretold that doesn't live up to advanced billing, "The Mothman Prophecies" develops as a portentous journey into cinematic doom which fails to fully evoke its chilling and tragic dimensions. Pic blends contemporary American urban and rural settings with dark forces that can be perceived by an unfortunate few.

With:
John Klein - Richard Gere
Connie - Laura Linney
Gordon Smallwood - Will Patton
Mary Klein - Debra Messing
Denise Smallwood - Lucinda Jenney
Alexander Leek - Alan Bates
Ed Fleischman - David Eigenberg
Lucy Griffin - Ann McDonough
Chief Josh Jarrett - Nesbitt Blaisdell
Indrid Cold - Bill Laing

Like a thing foretold that doesn’t live up to advanced billing, “The Mothman Prophecies” develops as a portentous journey into cinematic doom which fails to fully evoke its chilling and tragic dimensions. Following in the M. Night Shyamalan school of characters with extra-sensory perception, pic blends contemporary American urban and rural settings with dark (and frequently red) forces that can be perceived by an unfortunate few, including generally cool-headed star Richard Gere in his most comfortable persona — a lonely man in a crisis. Director Mark Pellington hardly lets a moment pass without suggesting some bad vibes creeping onto the edges of the screen, but he’s let down by Richard Hatem’s script, based on John A. Keel’s book, which delivers an ounce when it promised a gallon. Word-of-mouth will dull post-opening turnout, but numbers should be in line with Gere’s other dramatic outings. Ancillary visitations will boost those numbers considerably.

“Based on true events in Point Pleasant, W. Va.” is what the opening informs, but what’s immediately clear is that the movie is equally based on the filmmakers’ ability to place auds into a frightscape that offers no way out. Soon after ace Washington Post reporter John Klein (Gere) and wife Mary (Debra Messing) seal the deal on a Georgetown brownstone, Mary crashes their car as she sees an image of a giant moth figure swooping into her view. A rare temporal lobe tumor proves fatal for Mary; by her bedside, John finds a sketchbook filled with her drawings of what looks like a moth with human arms and legs (though they actually look like she had been heavily borrowing from Francis Bacon).

Two years later, John, still a D.C. political reporter, is not fully over the loss of Mary. Driving overnight into Virginia, he inexplicably ends up 400 miles off-course in Point Pleasant, where he meets the grizzled Gordon (Will Patton, Hollywood’s favorite current crazy man).

Town cop Connie (Laura Linney, wearing what looked like Frances McDormand’s uniform and cap from “Fargo”) verifies John is a reporter, and admits that “things have been strange around here lately.”

Realizing he has a story on his hands, John investigates things with Connie, interviewing several townfolk who say they witnessed everything from visions in the sky to red lights to static-filled electronic noises over the phone. Pellington’s swooping and stalking camera and a tingly, nerve-wracking sound design by Claude Letessier do all they can to distract from some increasing narrative problems, starting with John’s Post job. He phones the office on occasion, but doesn’t seem to want to fill his editors in on the story, and it begins to feel like he doesn’t even care if he has a job to come back to.

The John-Connie relationship, which goes too quickly from courteous to intimate, hints at some unsure trimming. Still, Gere and Linney keep it from looking ridiculous.

It’s townie Gordon who gets the first signals that whatever forces are working on the town are warning of a coming catastrophe. The force even has a name — Indrid Cold (the voice of Bill Laing) — but it sounds more like the stuff of a pulpy page-turner than a fact-based chronicle.

At the one-hour mark, “Mothman” wanders away from its sustained atmospherics into silly expository detours led by a retired physics professor (a badly used Alan Bates), who once experienced the same moth-ridden prophecies of doom as John, and offers up a historical brief on the Mothman as a presence of bad tidings. John’s quick, unannounced visit to Chicago to see the prof, as well as a subsequent all-night drive to see him again, are only a part of the awkward plotting that slows the second half of the movie.

Story indicates, through ghostly re-appearances by Mary, that John is especially sensitive to the Mothman, and though the dead wife tries to keep him away from Point Pleasant, he returns just in time to witness the disaster we’ve been waiting for. Pellington stages a vivid but curiously unaffecting five-minute sequence that has John rescuing Connie from the subsequent destruction. The scene is terrible enough, but perhaps mitigated in the mirror of our post 9-11 world.

Besides a few moments of strained emotionalism, Gere performs within his zone, underplaying and taking in everything around him, being generous with his co-stars and looking great in a long black winter coat. As few stars recently have been, he is almost constantly on screen from start to finish.

The visual strategies employed by Pellington and lenser Fred Murphy never overlook a chance to inject the creeps, including tilted cameras, perspective-altering dissolves and even smeared raindrops on a car windshield made to resemble moths. Letessier’s amazing work is augmented by the minimalist trance music of group Tomandandy, exquisitely assisted by a battalion of guitarists including the commanding Glenn Branca.

The Mothman Prophecies

Production: A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Screen Gems and Lakeshore Entertainment presentation of a Lakeshore Entertainment production. Produced by Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Gary Goldstein. Executive producers, Ted Tannebaum, Richard S. Wright, Terry A. McKay. Co-producer, James McQuaide. Directed by Mark Pellington. Screenplay, Richard Hatem, based on the book by John A. Keel.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, Panavision widescreen), Fred Murphy; editor, Brian Berdan; music, Tomandandy; music supervisor, Liza Richardson; production designer, Richard Hoover; art director, Troy Sizemore; set decorator, Diana Stoughton; costume designer, Susan Lyall; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Pud Cusack; sound designer, Claude Letessier; supervising sound editor, Kelly Cabral; visual effects, Cinesite; visual effects supervisor, Robert Grasmere, Laurel Klick; special effects supervisor, Peter Chesney; assistant director, John Hockridge; casting, Sheila Jaffe, Georgianne Walken. Reviewed at the Egyptian Theater, L.A., Jan. 14, 2002. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 119 MIN.

With: John Klein - Richard Gere
Connie - Laura Linney
Gordon Smallwood - Will Patton
Mary Klein - Debra Messing
Denise Smallwood - Lucinda Jenney
Alexander Leek - Alan Bates
Ed Fleischman - David Eigenberg
Lucy Griffin - Ann McDonough
Chief Josh Jarrett - Nesbitt Blaisdell
Indrid Cold - Bill Laing

More Film

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Alien' at 40: Ridley Scott Explains Why 'You Don't Show the Monster Too Many Times'

    It’s difficult to imagine Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror classic “Alien” without the clear-minded, strong presence of Tom Skerritt as Dallas, the captain of the ill-fated Nostromo. But originally, the actor turned down “Alien,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary on May 25, though he thought Dan O’Bannon’s script read well. “There was nobody involved at the time [...]

  • The Poison Rose

    Film Review: 'The Poison Rose'

    It is 1978 in the City of Angels and the hard-drinking washed-up sleuth Carson Phillips is having another boozy day through its atmospheric streets. There is a hint of innate coolness and self-deprecation in his elongated voiceover intro — you might even briefly mistake Carson, played by a one-note John Travolta, for a Philip Marlowe [...]

  • 'Chambre 212' Review: A Comedy More

    Cannes Film Review: 'Chambre 212'

    Most of us, in our romantic lives, meditate here and there on the other roads we might have traveled, and movies are uniquely equipped to channel those alternate-universe-of-love possibilities. That’s the idea at the (broken) heart of “Casablanca.” And the fantasy of getting to see the turns your life didn’t take play out right in [...]

  • Zach Galifianakis Jerry Seinfeld Netflix

    Film News Roundup: Zach Galifianakis' 'Between Two Ferns: The Movie' Coming to Netflix

    In today’s film news roundup, “Between Two Ferns: The Movie” is unveiled, “Friedkin Uncut” gets a fall release and Sony Classics buys “The Traitor” at Cannes. MOVIE RELEASES Netflix has set a Sept. 20 release date for Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns: The Movie,” based on his 11-year-old talk show. Galifianakis made the announcement during [...]

  • Romanian Crime-Thriller 'The Whistlers' Bought for

    Romanian Crime-Thriller 'The Whistlers' Bought for North America

    Magnolia Pictures has bought North American rights to the Romanian crime thriller “The Whistlers” following its premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Written and directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, the film stars Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar, Antonio Buil, Agustí Villaronga, Sabin Tambrea, Julieta Szonyi and George Pisterneanu. Magnolia is eyeing a theatrical [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content