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The Mothman Prophecies
Reviewed by Jason Myers, Kenn McCracken, ©

Format: Movie
By:   Mark Pellington (director)
Genre:   Thriller
Released:   January 25, 2001
Review Date:  
Audience Rating:   Rated PG-13
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

Review by Jason Myers.

Based on my movie-going experiences over the past seven months, I'm going to have to disagree with Paul's assessment that January is the primary dumping ground for nearly unreleasable movies. Looking back on it, the entire 2001 summer big movie season, from May to August, was one big movie dump. I mean, in between Shrek and The Others, where were the good films? Most of the summer movies ran the gamut from excrable to just above mediocre. You've got A Knight's Tale, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Cats & Dogs, Evolution, Ghosts of Mars, Jurassic Park 3, Osmosis Jones, Scary Movie 2, and Tomb Raider. Even the ones I enjoyed (A.I., Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Planet of the Apes, and The Mummy Returns) were nothing to run screaming through the streets in madcap delight about. For months after RevolutionSF started up, I was a bit depressed, because I thought maybe I'd lost the ability to truly get caught up in a movie. Was there something wrong with me?

No, it turns out that there was something wrong with the movies.

So far, the two films that I've seen in January have been pretty darn swell. Between Brotherhood of the Wolf and The Mothman Prophecies, Mothman is easily the lesser of the two, but it was nonetheless a nice little piece of cinema.

I did not expect to like this movie. First, there's my own personal prejudice: I don't like Richard Gere. I'm not sure why. I'd say something like, "When was the last time Richard Gere was in a good movie?", but, truth is, the only Richard Gere movie I've ever seen is Pretty Woman, which I guess was good, but I really don't remember it that well. I think maybe it's that women supposedly find Gere terribly attractive, and I am completely unable to comprehend why. Russell Crowe, David Duchovny, Hugh Jackman, Brad Pitt, Jude Law, Tom Cruise… sure, I can understand that. But Richard Gere? To me, he's well-manicured, wooden, and a little bit creepy. Like Al Gore, but with gray hair.

Second, there is the preview. Ooooh, scary. Mysterious voices that are not human. Gere says, "What am I holding in my hand?" and some Kreskin on the telephone says, "Chapstick." Unexplained happenings. Why would I pay to see that when I could just sit at home and watch X-Files?

And a mothman? Come on. Seriously. A mothman? Why not just call it The Goatboy Prophecies? What about Molluskgirl?

The one point of hope for me was that The Mothman Prophecies was directed by Mark Pellington, who also directed Arlington Road. Not that I'd actually seen that movie yet. My brother had once recommended it to me.

After watching both Arlington Road and The Mothman Prophecies, I'll be sure to keep my eyes out for Pellington's next feature.

Okay, so The Mothman Prophecies treads pretty familiar territory. But Pellington is adept at layering small and sinister omens, creating an atmosphere of impending menace so thick that you actually get to be a little bit paranoid about the next time the film will try to scare you. He takes you - along with the main character - on a downward spiral of disorientation, running the camera swiftly across the blurring white lines of a highway, or up into trees where the branches click and rustle like the claws of insects.

The film's ability to draw the audience in lies partially with the visuals, partially with the pacing, and partially with the quiet gravitas that Will Patton (as Gordon) and Alan Bates (as Alexander Leek) bring to their supporting roles; but the sounds, both the music and the effects, are ultimately what sell the movie. Looking back, as I try to find a logical reason why a fairly unspectacular movie managed to get the old adrenaline pumping, the only answer I can come up with is Mothman's immersive sound. Screeches, bumps in the night, dead air, the ringing phone, and that voice. When the credits rolled, accompanied by "Half Light", a particularly creepy song by Tomandandy, with that voice, barely audible, doing guest vocals, the hairs on my arm actually stood up. Had I watched it at home, at daylight, without the benefit of massive theater speakers, I don't know that I would have been quite so caught up. But as a reviewer, more often than not, I end up processing and intellectualizing the movie, maybe even putting together a few mental notes, while the movie is still playing. So, the feeling of walking into a movie, and just getting swept mindlessly up in it… that's worth something.

If you don't cotton to the idea that, maybe, just maybe, there are more things in this world than have been seen or dreamt of, then you can probably just skip The Mothman Prophecies. For me, though, the movie tapped into that mostly dormant part of me: the kid who, in 6th grade, read through the school library's entire (and entirely too small) section on the paranormal, and then went looking for more. The fact that the film is based on actual events gives you a little something extra to think about.

As for Richard Gere… well, he's not my new favorite actor or anything, but, mercifully, his presence did not greatly vex me.

Unlike Arlington Road, I don't think that The Mothman Prophecies offers much - in the script, characterization, or plot - that will reward you for repeat viewings. It's a haunted house of a film that's probably a lot less interesting once you know where and when the ghosts will jump out and say, "Boo." But, with one of those haunted houses that opens up for just the month of October, you usually pay your money, then go through once. And one time through is exactly what you're looking for.

Next: A Second Opinion.

-After spending two hours in the theater, eating popcorn, sourpatch kids, and cheesy nachos, Film/DVD editor Jason Myers has his own big movie dump, if you know what we mean.

Continued . . .

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