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PopGap #35: The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

PopGap #35: The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

Directed by Mark Pellington
Written by dorrk
14 January 2018

Looks like our pal the Mothman is up to his old tricks.

It wasn't until completely losing interest in The Mothman Prophecies and looking up the "true story" on which it was based that I realized that I own a different book by the same chronicler of the supernatural, John A. Keel. The book that I own is titled Jadoo!, which is a fun, corny and supposedly sincere occult travelogue from the 1950s. In Jadoo!, Keel approaches both Egyptian marketplace fakirs and Iraqi Satanist cults with a sort of "gee-whiz" anthropological wonder that is plainly infectious. After making that connection, it didn't take long to assume that Mark Pellington's 2002 movie with the same title as Keel's 1975 book, and also about strange occurrences in Point Pleasant, WV, likely bears little resemblance to its source material. Pellington's heavily fictionalized movie tells a slick and hyper-emotional modern day story about a widowered big city newspaper man (Richard Gere) whose encounter with weird phenomena in rural West Virginia bears some kind of unexplained connection to his wife's mysterious death. Or maybe it doesn't. The story in The Mothman Prophecies is difficult to follow, and not because it's overly complicated; Pellington's film is a swirl of narcotic emotional tropes, resembling one of Gere's too-broody Adrian Lyne sex dramas, but with all of the faux fornication replaced by less believable clairvoyant alien entities. There is, however, a lot of bloated plot packed into The Mothman Prophecies, and all of it retreads tired ideas with an exhaustingly sullen intensity and using a self-important "everything is dramatic" over-edited Hollywood language from which I instinctually recoil. Like too many other movies, The Mothman Prophecies uses grief as a sole distinguishing character trait and digs downhill from there into an inexplicable mystery which no one understands, and upon which the movie shines absolutely no light, nor brings any worthwhile perspective, but merely uses it as grist for sentimental exploitation. Gere is solidly Gere-like, blinking with the most earnest determination; Laura Linney puts on a sheriff's outfit and uses that effective countenance of deep concern that makes her so wonderful in movies with coherent ideas; Will Patton goes crazy; and Alan Bates shows up briefly to throw a nod in Keel's direction as a professor knowledgeable about "the Mothman" — and also suggests, through the inverted character name of Leek, that Pellington has little interest in his movie's actual subject matter. Pellington is one of many high profile music video directors — U2's "One" and Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" are among his most famous — who segued into features during the 1990s, bringing a faultless sense of visual energy to the big screen while lacking in most areas beyond 5-minutes bursts of broadly defined mood.

The Mothman Prophecies was brought to the Potluck Film Fest by Connor Ryan Adamson. He ranks it on his Flickchart at #427 / 1310 (67%), making it his 11th favorite Psychological Sci-Fi Movie out of 25. It ranked on my Flickchart at #3453 (15%), putting it at number 41 on my chart of 49 Psychological Sci-Fi Movies.

PopGap #35: The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

Trailer for The Mothman Prophecies (2002)