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THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Will Patton, Debra Messing
Director:  Mark Pellington
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Pan & Scan 1.33:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  Music Video, Theatrical Trailer
Length:  119 Minutes
Release Date:  June 4, 2002

“You didn’t see it?”

Film ***

The Mothman Prophecies is a film that paints with broad strokes and never lets you get close to the details…yet for the first hour, it’s interesting, for the second, it’s intriguing, and by the time it’s over, you definitely feel in your gut that you’ve seen something…but what?

Supposedly based on true events, or urban legends at least, this is not a movie that scares or startles, but draws you in slowly but surely.  The characters are there mainly to be the voice of reason for or against the supernatural, but that’s only if you want to go ahead and chalk it up as supernatural.  There have been reports of premonitions and precognitions all throughout recorded history, but none quite matching the nature of these.

The story begins with a Washington Post reporter John Klein (Gere) and his wife Mary (Messing), about to begin a new chapter in their lives when the book is suddenly slammed shut.  A car accident leaves Mary badly wounded, and leads the doctors to the discovery that she is dying.  But the night of the crash, she saw something…something that manifested itself over and over again in her crude but unsettling drawings.

Two years later, John finds himself in Point Pleasant, West Virginia…though how he got there seems to defy explanation.  It’s a slice of small town America that seems to be gripped in something inexplicable, as he learns when he talks to the town’s police sergeant Connie Parker (Linney).  Good, normal folk have been coming in out of the woodwork to report strange (and vague) occurrences.  The mantra is always the same:  “hard to describe”, “can’t explain”, et cetera.

One of the locals, a fellow named Gordon (Patton), seems to be getting it the worst.  He is either really seeing and hearing something, or he is hallucinating…but if it’s in his mind, how can it be explained that the voices seem to be predicting events that haven’t happened yet with uncanny accuracy?

I don’t want to delve too far into the workings of the picture…the less you know, the better.  The movie doesn’t achieve a sense of suspense or thrills during its first half, largely because of the vague tip-toeing, but it keeps you interested enough that you’re there for the second half, when the gears begin to switch and you’re drawn in, hanging on every possible turn.  The ending is an unexpected double climax…a stunning sequence followed by a quiet exchange.  The latter is really what will stay with you.

This is a good cast, headed by Richard Gere in one of the best performances I’ve seen from him in a while.  I like him in these kinds of roles as he’s gotten older; a kind of everyman who’s smart, observant, and quiet, but with the penchant to react when things start to come apart.  Laura Linney, fresh from her Oscar nomination in You Can Count On Me, has less to work with, but in one sequence with Gere on the phone, the two create a heartfelt, strong scene out of very simple material.

Director Mark Pellington, who made the effective and somewhat underrated Arlington Road, has created another effective and underrated movie here.  He accents the action (or non action) with an assured camera style, skillful editing, and even simple effects to create the feel of something from nothing.  This picture probably boasts the most effective use of electronic voice manipulation since Cher’s song “Believe”.

We seem to be in the era of a new kind of horror genre, one that’s almost anti-horror.  Films like The Sixth Sense, The Others, and The Blair Witch Project have managed to succeed by intriguing their audiences rather than going for the cheap routine scare.  The Mothman Prophecies can now be added to that list as a film that titillates you with possibilities, then doesn’t disappoint you when it arrives at its conclusion.

Video ***1/2

This is another terrific offering from Columbia Tri Star…not 100% perfect, but darn near.  Mothman is a film of extreme lighting and color variations, and this is an anamorphic transfer that renders them all with clarity and integrity.  Dark scenes look just as detailed as lighter ones, and sequences of extreme color saturation look just as solid as ones with natural tones.  There is a slight hint of grain noticeable here and there, as well as a bit of light flicker in one of the early hospital scenes…these are quickly passing and just barely worth mentioning.  If the disc had used dual layering for the scope ratio transfer instead of using side two for a pan & scan presentation, it might have been a flawless offering.

Audio ***1/2

The soundtrack to a film like this is important, and CTS doesn’t disappoint with this lively and dynamic 5.1 mix.  The atmosphere is created and sustained by music and sound effects, and with this multi-channel offering, you never know from what direction it’s going to come.  Dialogue is clean and clearly rendered in both quiet scenes and intense ones.  The balance is apparent in a couple of crowd scenes, where a level volume of ambience is created across both stages.  A commendable effort.

Features *1/2

The disc contains a trailer and a music video for the tune “Half Light”, which was directed by Mark Pellington.  The insert contains some interesting info about the Mothman…do NOT read it until you’ve seen the movie!

Summary:

The Mothman Prophecies might not be the horror film you expect, but it will hold your interest and take you for an engrossing ride towards a memorable conclusion.  Richard Gere is in fine form in the lead role, and the sure-handed direction of Mark Pellington make this an effective, if somewhat unusual thriller.