Review: The Mothman Prophecies

Mark Pellington’s latest pop thriller is as kooky and overeager as it is spooky and subtly in love with myth.

The Mothman Prophecies
Photo: Screen Gems

Mark Pellington’s latest pop thriller is as kooky and overeager as it is spooky and subtly in love with myth. Resonant enough to make one suspect shadows and headlights of wrongdoing, The Mothman Prophecies should appeal to anyone still creeped out by that dead boy with the gun in Three Men and a Baby. It’s not long after the horny Mr. and Mrs. Klein sign the lease to their new house before a night-vision lands Mary (Debra Messing) in the hospital. Pellington has a grand old time conjuring the titular mythic figure via cracks and dark corners, the symmetrical framing (here, trees and desks inside a hospital’s waiting room) fabulously recalling Rorschach inkblots. Mothman’s grip is relentless, the film’s strange goings-on seemingly explained as the relapses of the mind and eye. Pellington’s visual palette is inconsistent enough to distract—quick-fire editing and hyper-saturated images are pointless when set against the more evocative use of fading techniques and light and shadow. Mark (Richard Gere) makes his way to Point Pleasant, West Virginia, stumbling upon more mysterious behavior and sexless repartee courtesy of local cop Connie Parker (Laura Linney). Pellington has a difficult time shaking off the dusty archetypes (the wise black man, the difficult research scholar), but pros like Linney and Alan Bates successfully dilute the cheese factor. Amid creepy sound bridges and a spectacular trip-hop score, murals and figurines depicting Native American rituals suggest an impossibly slippery mythos is at play. Pellington’s loops (smoke from a chemical plant, a visit from the governor) are cautious but tempting, daring the spectator to get it wrong: is this The Wicker Man meets Erin Brockovich? Mothman teases to the end, its wholesale rumination on the suggestive if not wholly paranoiac mind fabulously toying with fairy-tale motifs once disaster becomes self-fulfilling prophesy.

 Cast: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Debra Messing, David Eigenberg, Bob Tracey, Will Paton, Lucinda Jenney, Alan Bates  Director: Mark Pellington  Screenwriter: Richard Hatem  Distributor: Screen Gems  Running Time: 119 min  Rating: R  Year: 2002  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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