Review by Marc Ashdown
Many a director has had his, or her, fingers burned upon venturing into the
realms of the 'based on a true story' minefield, so one has to, in the first
place, admire Mark Pellington for attempting to breathe life into the 'Mothman'
Best-known for the criminally underrated 1999 potboiler Arlington Road, he again creates a visual treat, exercising his considerable talent for flashy, hypnotic cinematography, while striving to allow the narrative (and excellent performances) space to develop.
The history of the Mothman is as convoluted as any legend and dates back hundreds of years. Sightings of a large 'moth-like' creature, perhaps a bird, or flying man, have been reported by average, honest folk across the world.
Almost uniformly it has been a precursor to some form of disaster, natural or man-made, and debate has continued over whether the sepulchral visitations have caused such tragedies - or were in fact ethereal harbingers manifested in visual or aural form as a kind of warning.
The myth is perhaps best explained in the events in Point Pleasant, Ohio, in 1966/67, when up to a hundred 'normal folk' independently reported sightings of Mothman in the year preceding a particularly nasty tragedy. Nothing of the sort was ever reported in Point Pleasant again. Details of the catastrophe I won't go into, for it's the small town in which The Mothman Prophecies is set.
Richard Gere's Washington Post journalist, John Klein, is still haunted by
the loss of his wife when he drives off for an assignment only to have his
car break down in the secluded town - inexplicably 400-miles from where he
Local Sheriff Connie (Laura Linney) confides that a series of strange events have been happening for a while, and Klein sets about uncovering the truth, which he suspects may hold the key to his wife's mysterious death.
Inevitably, he spirals out of control as he nears the truth and tries to convince the doubters of what atrocities nature has in store.
It's testament to Pellington that it never really turns into a race-against-time thriller, and instead intrigues and confuses in equal doses.
His surrealism and ability to make even the most mundane household objects take on a menacing air has shades of The Sixth Sense; and the small town setting and array of bizarre oddballs revives memories of David Lynch's early work (Blue Velvet and TV whodunnit Twin Peaks especially).
It certainly isn't easy viewing and creates an edge of darkness, even during the daylight scenes, which is as frightening and repelling as it is mesmerising and compelling.
Gere and Linney are wonderfully understated, though at times their Mulder and Scully act wears a little thin and cries out for a deeper insight into their relationship - or even just a few more decent lines. And the final resolution is rendered fairly obsolete by virtue of the fact it's 'based on true events' - and begs the question of why bother to conceal it at all?
Nevertheless, it serves okay as a final piece of the jigsaw and the last few lines just about stay on the serious side of laughable. But that's taking nothing away from the impressive accomplishment by Pellington. Keeping a tight grip on a potentially very hard-to-follow story, he exhibits the kind of visual expertise and willingness to experiment and innovate that got David Se7en/Fight Club Fincher noticed. The two styles are actually not too dissimilar.
Despite a tendency to over-dramatise, this is yet another supernatural spook-fest which will chill and entertain - and hopefully won't prove too offensive to the real-life inspirations.
To find out more about the Mothman in our special feature, click on the related link - BUT be warned, important plot points are revealed!