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The Mothman Prophecies (Mark Pellington) 2002 

A cryptic Rorschach blotch of a movie, Mark Pellington’s stylishly directed The Mothman Prophecies begins with a disclaimer telling us that we’re about to see a true story, and that claim grows increasingly dubious throughout the film’s running time. As the film follows Washington Post reporter John Klein (Richard Gere), he descends into an increasingly weird slice of The X-Files-style paranoia. The film starts out promisingly enough when the sudden and inexplicable loss of his wife prompts Klein to become a bit of an emotional wreck. She claims to have witnessed the image of a moth-like specter during a car crash and begins obsessively drawing it. Pellington uses plenty of suggestive imagery here as he makes the shape of a moth appear in corners of the screen, whether in the ominous clouds in the sky or the cracks in a shattered window. When Gere begins investigating her visions a few years later, however, the suggestion that everything a bit of a mirage quickly dissipates, unfortunately. Rather than presenting Klein’s increasing obsessions as a side effect of his obvious post traumatic stress, the film works overtime to set move along more conventional routes (including the introduction of a damsel in distress and an impeding disaster). 

When the film’s locale shifts to Point Pleasant, West Virginia, most of the mystery seems to stem from us wondering how much Gere will be able to stir up the yokels with his hokum. That no one calls his bluff, including a female police chief (Laura Linney) that recalls Frances McDormand’s Marge in Fargo, is baffling and frustrating. What seems to be an obvious case of desultory lunacy that stems from both the loss of a loved one and working-class small town boredom (a la Session 9) runs completely unchecked here. The movie trots out paranormal investigators that quote Ukrainian legends in support of its hallucinations, but it doesn’t call upon a single skeptic. Unfortunately, since Klein’s obsessions are never painted as such, the audience becomes the big skeptic that the movie lacks. Eventually, that skepticism keeps us from even getting into the bits of moody and mindless fun that are offered up. The film is far more silly than suspenseful, and Gere is never given a change to explore the pathos inherent in his search for answers. That he seems to crave a great catastrophe suggests his rage hasn’t resolved itself, but he never really gets a chance to make it known. Jack Nicholson portrayed this sort of obsession much better in last year’s The Pledge. Ultimately, The Mothman Prophecies is much closer to eerie than scary, and its few effective sequences (including an impressive ending set pieces) are outweighed by the picture’s flaws. 



Jeremy Heilman