Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
At one point during The Mothman Prophecies, our main character travels from Washington, DC to Point Pleasant, West Virginia. He relates that he drove 80 mph the whole way and it should have taken him about six hours to get there. That means the movie posits that Point Pleasant resides more than 400 miles from DC, a concept that seemed wrong to me as I watched it. A lifelong DC-area resident, I didn’t think any part of West Virginia was quite that far from here, though I was incorrect; I checked, and Point Pleasant’s indeed about 417 miles from DC.
I bring this up not because the potential factual gaffe bothered me. Heck, Kate and Leopold presents scads of anachronisms, but they didn’t irritate me. That occurred because I actually enjoyed Kate enough to ignore the errors. In the case of Mothman, however, I felt so bored with the material that I couldn’t help but focus on its possible inaccuracies.
Apparently based on real events, Mothman focuses on the experiences of star Washington Post reported John Klein (Richard Gere). He seems to live a great life, especially because he and wife Mary (Debra Messing) appear to be totally in love with each other. At the start of the film, they purchase their dream house and everything’s great.
However, on the drive back from this event, Mary thinks she sees some funky winged figure and jerks the steering wheel to avoid this specter who John doesn’t observe. As the car spins, she smashes her head against the window. In and of itself, that injury doesn’t cause critical damage to Mary, but during their examinations, the doctors find a rare brain disorder that soon kills her.
Depressed, John tries to go on with his life, but doesn’t do very well. Still, he continues his job at the Post. One night, he needs to head to Richmond to interview the governor of Virginia, a man with presidential aspirations. Mysteriously, however, John detours and winds up far west of Richmond in Point Pleasant, a town that abuts Ohio.
Further weirdness ensues. John traveled this distance in less than two hours. His car conks out for unknown reasons, and he stops at a rural house to ask for help. However, Gordon Smallwood (Will Patton), one of the residents, becomes bizarrely belligerent when he meets John. Gordon claims that John’s been there for the last two nights at precisely the same time.
The local police get involved via officer Connie Mills (Laura Linney), and the mystery starts to unravel. It appears that many Point Pleasant residents have seen a “mothman” creature similar to the one experienced by Mary, and she begins to actively haunt him. Gordon also gets calls from “Indrid Cold”, who appears to be Mothy him/her/itself. Various vague prophecies emerge from Cold, all of which come true, such as the crash of an airplane. John ignores his job to pursue this mystery and find out what Cold wants with him.
That’s all well and good, but what I couldn’t figure out was how a story with such potential turned into something so relentlessly boring. Oh, the filmmakers make desperate attempts to convey a sense of tensions and anxiety. Mothman features lots of spooky music, edgy effects, and creepy photography. Actually, the movie periodically reminds me of Se7en due to these elements.
However, Se7en provided taut storytelling, effective filmmaking techniques, and strong performances, three things virtually absent from Mothman. Often, the film comes across like a particularly pointless and dull episode of The X-Files. We watch the mystery unfold but it never seems to go anywhere. Matters tie up mildly at the end, but not to a satisfying degree. Perhaps some of this results from the alleged factual basis of the material; the matters remain unresolved, so the filmmakers might have preferred to do the same with their version.
However, there is such a thing as creative liberty, and Mothman could use that. I don’t need Mothy to become a big, bad villain ala Jeepers Creepers, a straight horror flick with a winged critter, but some character definition would be nice. Some greater indication what Cold is/was and what spurred all the events also would have helped. As it stands, the movie simply seems random and vague about everything.
Again, that allows it to more closely resemble real life, where we don’t see everything wrapped up neatly. However, this kind of thriller needs a greater sense of linear storytelling to work. With all of the material so loose, it never inspires much tension or scariness. Mothy remains a weird voice on the phone with little threat. He’s kinda spooky at times, but that’s not much onto which one can hang a movie.
It doesn’t help that much of the film seems obvious. Since Linney’s name came before Messing’s in the credits, I knew that meant one thing: the wife must die! Granted, Mothman doesn’t really try to create a romance between John and Connie, but the events definitely point in that direction. I realized there was no way a movie would feature a babe like Linney along with still-hunky Gere and not let the audience believe love was in the air.
The two show little chemistry, and that goes for the rest of the cast as well. Everyone seems vaguely bored, which means I became infected with the same ennui. They try desperately to get involved in the material, but it lacks enough drive and energy to take them anywhere.
Somewhere buried deep within The Mothman Prophecies, the roots of a good movie reside. This isn’t it, unfortunately. Very little about Mothman stands out as particularly terrible, but the entire film fails to deliver the appropriate levels of apprehension and anxiety. Instead, the flick simply plods along for a couple of hours.