Confusing `Mothman' leaves much unanswered

Movie review

January 25, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Who, or what, is the Mothman?

That's one of many questions never fully answered in The Mothman Prophecies. This supernatural thriller from director Mark Pellington almost sinks under the weight of too many red herrings, but is rescued by a skewed sense of reality and pervasive sense of dread that should keep audiences from dwelling on them.

John Klein (Richard Gere, as always without a hair out of place) is a Washington Post reporter on a happy streak: Not only is his career going great, but he's just made a steal of a deal to purchase a new house. Such happiness can't go unpunished, of course.

So one night, as Klein and his wife, Mary (Debra Messing), are speeding toward their new home for what promises to be an amorous evening, Mary swerves to avoid something in the road, is struck on the head and knocked unconscious. At the hospital, the couple learns that while she'll recover from the accident, she'll soon die from a previously undetected brain tumor.

Even more disturbing: although Klein saw nothing, Mary insists something indescribable and unsettling was in the road. When she dies, she leaves behind a sketchbook filled with freaky-looking pictures resembling a giant moth.

Two years later, a still-grieving Klein takes a late-night drive and ends up in Point Pleasant, W.Va., some 400 miles away - even though he had been heading for Richmond, and he'd only been driving for a few hours.

Local police Sgt. Connie Parker (Laura Linney) tells Klein people have been seeing all kinds of weird things the past several months - including a creature that looks like a giant moth. Distraught, Klein tries to figure things out.

Meanwhile, Mothman leaves cryptic hints around town that something tragic is about to occur, and Klein and Parker start developing feelings for each other.

Mary's encounter with the Mothman - if that's what she saw - never is fully explained. Nor do we ever get a feel for what reason Klein ends up in Point Pleasant, or by what means ( but when dealing with the supernatural, the mechanisms are often - and forgivably - pretty inexplicable). And just what is the Mothman - a little imp that sits on the devil's shoulder and plays with people's minds? Or an evil to be feared?

Several cinematic touches help Mothman give audiences the creeps. Strange, out-of-focus lights keep appearing, and even though they sometimes turn out to be innocuous (a traffic light, a street lamp), the brief mystery over their identity proves disquieting. Even such a simple thing as a water faucet is shot against a hazy, translucent background that makes it appear otherworldly. Characters often are photographed alone and in long shots, adding to a sense of isolation. And the drawings of Mothman look like something Edvard Munch sketched while planning The Scream.

The Baltimore-born Pellington, whose marvelously paranoid Arlington Road was likewise a flawed film saved by its ability to set a mood and run with it, works hard at getting his movies to feel right. In Mothman, that means ensuring his audience remains as clueless about what's going on as his characters - partly because events are confusing, but partly because the truth may be too unnerving.

Unfortunately, that often means purposely misdirecting the audience, for reasons that have everything to do with ratcheting up the level of suspense, and nothing to do with the story itself.

The Mothman Prophecies

Starring Richard Gere, Laura Linney

Directed by Mark Pellington

Released by Screen Gems

Rated PG-13 (Terror, adult language, brief sexuality)

Running time 119 minutes

Sun score ***

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