The Mothman Prophecies 

Release Date: January, 2002

"... a damn good, spooky film that doesn't commit the sin of explaining away the mystery."


Reviewed by J. Edward Tremlett

I can't remember the first time I heard about the Mothman. I'm from Ohio, originally, and that story's one of those legends that crop up around the tri-state area every so often. However, it does so in such a way that it's hardly newsworthy. It blends into the endless, static realms of rural myth, right along with crop circles, lights in the sky, escaped, man-eating zoo animals and haunted houses. Everyone says they know about it, and maybe folks are inclined to believe in it - or at least refuse to denigrate anyone who says they believe in it - but it goes no further than that.

Maybe this movie will change things on that score, and maybe it won't. But either way I was absolutely impressed with The Mothman Prophecies. In spite of having top Hollywood talent and a reasonable budget behind it - which usually means a film of this nature will be nothing but schmaltzy drek - this film is an excellent exploration of fate, belief, precognition and the thin barriers between rational and irrational, and belief and madness.

And, as an added plus, when my wife and I went to go see it, the first five minutes of the film were studded by the projection crew's inept attempts to fix the image on the screen: first it was too low and folks couldn't read the subtitles, and then they cut off too much of the top, and then it went too much to one side... on and on until they got it just right...

Given what we later saw in the movie, this was highly appropriate.


The Story:

John Klein (Richard Gere, last seen in "Dr. T and the Women," or else high-fiving the Dalai Lama) is a high-flying reporter for the Washington Post. One night before Christmas, he and his wife Mary (Debra Messing of "Will and Grace") go out house-hunting. And they get this big, gorgeous house, spend a little while fooling around in one of the closets, and then drive home.

On the way there... something happens. The upshot is that there's a car accident, and when Mary comes out of unconsciousness at the hospital there is definately something wrong. It turns out she's got a tumor - one that was probably there all along, really. The doctors can't get it all out, either. And she dies, of course, thus validating the purtianical Hollywood rule that 'she who gets nekkid first is dead meat.'

While John's packing up her things, he makes a weird discovery: she was drawing black and red winged figures. Someone says "she was drawing angels," but the pictures he finds do not seem very angellic.

Flash ahead to two years. John's still a reporter, still flying high, but he looks like he's lost in a fog. Quite aptly, he goes down to Richmond to interview the governor, but winds up with a dead car outside some guy's house. When John knocks on the door to use the phone, the drawling guy who answers it (Will Patton, "A Lie of the Mind," and soon to be in the TV show 'The Agency') sticks a gun in the baffled fellow's face and drags him inside.

Of course, by now you're thinking "Deliverance." But we're saved by the appearance of Sgt. Connie Parker (Laura Linney from "You can Count on Me" and HBO's 'Tales of the City'). She manages to defuse the situation, but Will Patton's character swears that John's been by the last two nights at the same time, and always disappears immediately after he goes for the phone. He's talking stalking charges, but his wife never saw John even once. Weird, huh?

It gets worse: when Connie drops John off at a motel for the night, he asks the clerk where he is, only to be told he's just across the border - from Ohio. He's in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, some 400 miles from where he was supposed to be. How did he get that far off course? And how could he have travelled that far in so little time...?

Of course, instead of doing the sensible thing, John sticks around to see what else is going on. Connie tells him that everyone's been seeing... something. There are strange phonecalls being made, weird flashes in the sky, inexplicable wounds, dreams, sightings, voices from out of the sink... you name it. And John can't help but see the connection to what his dead wife was drawing...

I won't spoil the rest of the movie any more than I have to. Suffice it to say that John starts seeing and hearing things himself, Alan Bates (of too many credits to name just one) shows up as a downcast parapsychologist that John goes to for help, and after a certain point John begins to lose control of the situation. Towards the end, he makes a fateful decision, and this leads to an ending that - while it isn't perfect for the film, really - works, and still doesn't spoil the mystery of the whole thing.


The Gen:

Someone, somewhere, said that The Mothman Prophecies was like the "X-Files" directed by David Lynch. I disagree: if that'd been true, the movie would have been a lot stranger, but perhaps no less jarring, with sex, freaks, sexfreaks, few bankable stars and an ending that would have left you to make up your own resolution. As it is, the film's mysterious without being too 'out there,' the narrative is fairly easy to follow, we only get a glimpse of Debra Messing's butt in the shower, and the ending is... well... happier than perhaps it should be.

But the thing is - Mothman doesn't need David Lynch to be strange, weird and compelling. While there are moments that are too schmaltzy for my liking, the movie succeeds in its true goal: drawing you into the mystery and leaving you to wonder just what the hell is going on. However, unlike other films - like the astounding The Others - which invite you to draw conclusions before the climax, and then see those conclusions dashed or vindicated by the end - Mothman doesn't really give you time to ponder what might be happening, and never explains a damn thing.

And that, as far as I'm concerned, is a welcome addition to the genre. The movie isn't perfect by any stretch: the acting's a bit off, some of the scene transitions were a bit over-produced and some things are left unfinished that should have been at least looked at again. But those flaws are minor compared to the direction - which is damn good, overall - and a very compelling script. The end result is extremely entertaining and thought-provoking, and well worth the bucks to see it on the big screen.


Wraith/WOD-friendly Content:

It might shock you to hear me say this, but I didn't watch this movie and think of aliens, men in black or any of the other attending co-mysteries that usually accompany the Mothman; My first thought was "ghosts." Everything that happened after the car crash only cemented my feelings that Wraiths could be behind it all. And I kept thinking "Oracles" throughout the whole thing, even though it's not an exact fit.

Oracles are always taking people who are destined to come to them, and if any spooky goings-on result in those deaths, it's all part of the plan. So who says the Guild can't be proactive? The sighting of the Mothman could be the Guild harvesting Enfants to serve Fate, and taking advantage of the legend (if they weren't its originators in the first place...?) to mask their activities.

But if that's true, then why are they warning people? Are their Shadows trying to thwart them? Or do they have to give their intended - and any would-be onlookers - some kind of advanced notice of impending doom? If so, why?

This could also be the work of some other group, perhaps Renegade, who seek to thwart the Hierarchy's code. But then, you'd think they'd break the rules in a more spectacular fashion? Or is what the characters in the movie remember the most that they can recall, thanks to The Fog?

The messages are most likely being transmitted through Inhabit and Phantasm, with some Pandemonium and Embody thrown in there, too. Mnemosynis could account for the memory lapses, or maybe folks were being Puppeteered. The climax is most likely brought about by Flux, but maybe some fine-tuned Outrage was in there as well.

The semi-retired occult book fellow makes an okay template for a tired, old researcher who's trying to live quietly in the wreckage his life's become. The acting wasn't spectacular, there, but then it might have outshined Richard Gere's "caught in the headlights" role if it had been.

The Final Cut:

"You didn't see it... did you?" - Mary

Mothman Prophecies is a damn good, spooky film that doesn't commit the sin of explaining away the mystery. Storytellers who want to run a Hunters Hunted Chronicle where ghosts meddle in human affairs in unusual ways should see this.

4 skulls of out 5.


Official site:

There's a lot of supplemental information about the Mothman, here. If you're interested in looking further into the matter, this site makes a great place to start.

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