The new supernatural thriller “The Mothman Prophecies” retells “real events” that took place in Point Pleasant, a small West Virginia town. According to the story, many people in Pt. Pleasant began to mysteriously encounter a chilling “mothman,” some sort of non-human, insect-related, supernatural being. Arriving in basking, overwhelming flash of intense red light, this entity whispers ambigous little phrases that predict future fatal disasters, like earthquakes and plane crashes.
Starring Richard Gere as a confused Washington Post journalist and Laura Linney as a helpful local sheriff, the film wears this “based on true events” tagline as a badge of honor, an automatic intensification of every twist and turn it carefully and slowly navigates. Instead, the “reality” of the story undermines the very creepiness it is meant to enhance. By feigning legitimacy, the film enters the unfortunate realm of ridiculousness. Although it achieves isolated moments of hair-raising satisfaction, the simple assumption that there was just something in the water at Point Pleasant negatively colors the entire film.
In the past three years, the supernatural, psychological thrill ride has enjoyed a wonderful resurgence in the film world. Movies like, “The Blair Witch Project,” “The Sixth Sense,” and “The Others” captured our own embarrassing mental realities without actually trying to be real.
Whether through the use of dim lighting or a spine-tingling musical score, these films achieved the perfect tone of doubt and uncertainty. “The Mothman Prophecies” shares many of these technical successes: the sweeping cinematography and taut editing turn Point Pleasant itself into an unsettling, isolated horror film locale. Yet these past thrillers far succeed “Mothman” in their overall effect as cinematic experiences because they allow the viewer to enter a world that draws fuel from the imagination instead of logic.
This attempt at factual legitimacy is particularly baffling in light of the film’s inability to intertwine various plot events. Unlike “The Sixth Sense,” which grew in suspense as each subtle, spooky intricacy built off the last, “Mothman” creates isolated, satisfying moments that never clearly relate to the rest of the film.
Early in the picture, Gere’s John Kline finds himself stranded on a strange stretch of highway in front of a unknown house. When he asks the inhabitants of this dark abode for assistance, he learns quite surprisingly that not only has he inexplicably traveled four hundred miles in ninety minutes, but he has also shown up at this house every night for the past three nights. There is a natural assumption that the “mothman” is responsible for this turn of events, but as the film progresses, all the mothman’s future actions fail to corroborate, explain, or even match this eerie plot twist.
In addition to this frustrating inconsistency, the viewer has to endure an indefinable, painfully elusive villain. What is the “mothman”? It is never explained in any real way (maybe for the best), but we are supposed to assume that he represents our own mental awakening: once we notice him, he rises from undetectable cosmic force to walking bug. Moreover, Gere’s Kline is recovering from the incredibly random death of his beloved wife, and subsequently, the “mothman” is meant to represent his own painful attempt to come to terms with how uncertain the future is.
Just as the viewer begins to reluctantly accept these spiritual explanations, the “mothman” actually calls Richard Gere on the phone. Sounding uncannily like the bad guy from the “Scream” movies and shamefully promoting chapstick, this scratchy-voiced Dionne Warwick wanna-be swiftly destroys any of the potential intrigue it had amassed.
Richard Gere has not given a credible performance in a well-made movie since “Primal Fear” almost seven years ago, and the fiercely engaging Edward Norton gets most of the credit for that thriller’s edge-of-the-seat bravado. In “Mothman Prophecies,” Gere once again demonstrates his startling inability to transform himself into a character or disappear into a role. He fails to offer his audience something new, instead relying on the same stiff mannerisms and vocal fluctuations; this kind of consistency proves inadequate for a film meant to penetrate our assumptions about the ordinary.
Putting aside Gere’s bland antics, the story of “Mothman Prophecies” just fails to excite. The plot regresses quickly, the science fiction has too much strength in its validity, and the mothman is either frustratingly elusive or laughably overexposed. As one Point Pleasant resident desperately laments: “I feel like I’m sleeping, but I’m awake.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.