The Mothman Prophecies Review
Every time I watch a Hollywood horror film I hope beyond all hope that it will scare me like the classics of twenty years ago. The Exorcist and The Omen still leave me checking over my shoulder, and you couldn’t pay me to turn the light off. An American Werewolf In London still freaks me out, especially when David Naughton takes it upon himself to look directly into the camera lens during his first lycanthropic transformation – I’m shivering just thinking about it! The likes of Ridley Scott’s Alien with its quiet empty corridors and brooding, slow burning terror, and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street with its over-the-top violence and severe, haunting attack on something we all do everyday – sleep. Nineties horror such as Scream have an edge, but they lack any real longevity while films that promise so much like Session 9 deliver so little. So I arrive at the next jab at the genre, or at least I thought I did. From word of mouth and the theatrical trailer, a supernatural chiller looked to be entering my living room begging me to be frightened by it. It’s these expectations that can kill off a film before it has even reached its twentieth minute. What I found was a brash, entertaining but flawed mystery thriller, that desperately tried to bring a strange true event to the screen by rooting it in a fictional story however, ultimately failing.
John Klein (Richard Gere) is still mourning the tragic death of his wife, when two years later, he mysteriously finds himself in a small town in West Virginia when his car breaks down. Klein soon realises that strange occurrences are happening in the town, which are confirmed by a local police sergeant (Laura Linney) who informs him that people are seeing a strange winged-like creature.
Director Mark Pellington, fresh from the success of the superb Arlington Road seems comfortable at the helm here. Shrouding each scene with an element of mystery, he continuously creates questions and never allows the audience to know exactly where he is taking his story. From shots from above and below to elaborate tracks and pans, he maintains the camera as an active participant, at times leaving you unsure whether you are peering through someone’s eyes, or being suggested a metaphorical idea of a characters mood or feelings. He also utilises stylistic editing techniques to further possible ideas of where the story might be heading, and at times uses the editing to throw in a red-herring or two. However, at times I did find his flashy cutting a little distracting and while its purpose was obvious, there didn’t seem any need to continuously use it. On the other hand, his constant use of eerie, strange sounds is exemplary. With each scene shrouded in mystery, the sounds and music continually provide a chilling sensation that tickles the back of your neck, keeping you wondering what might come crashing round the next corner.
The film’s major problem is that it struggles to maintain its own story while it tries to be convincing in the portrayal of the supposedly true event. Whether what is portrayed sways on the side of the paranormal or the scientific is never totally answered, and while this leaves the audience to make up their own decisions you can’t help but feel the filmmakers didn’t have a clue either. Some major plot holes are left gaping, which is probably why Klein’s story feels forced. Once he arrives in West Virginia events are too quickly unfolded and we are asked to believe that a total stranger who could have lost his mind one day, is given complete access to police files the next. His investigation is filled with intrigue, and the film takes on a simple but effective direction however his character is hollow, and Gere fails to bring an emotional depth to Klein.
The acting is unfortunately a little under-par with more blame on the script than anything else. Richard Gere, as mentioned lacks the ability, more than anything, to bring something other than what is written on the page to his character. While he perfectly finds the ‘I haven’t got a clue what’s going on’ look, he struggles when the performance needs something a little bit more than just facial expression. Laura Linney is believable but ultimately not given enough screen time for the audience to really feel some compassion towards her. She is given some very important dialogue and is pivotal to the plot, yet because she is shoved in the background of Klein’s story, when the two are thrown together it just adds to the idea that the fictional story feels forced around the factual events. Will Patton is simply superb as a twitchy local who is seeing his fair share of weird goings on. His performance gives the film a gritty reality feel, making use of his supporting role to provide a raw edge that makes the story more plausible and infinitely more un-easing.
I found the film to be an enjoyable thriller, which worked best when using the odd cheap shock effect and utilising the idea of a man’s investigation into his wife’s disappearance as its driving force. For me, it never really got under my skin and I think the fact that the filmmakers decided to go with a more ‘real’ murder mystery fictional story to get them where they wanted to be, was a major aspect for this. Keeping things centered in what we perceive as reality may work to ‘scare’ audiences in principle. Yet with the supernatural possibilities provided by the actual events, a direct gothic horror story would probably have worked better. Pellington’s indecision as to what the film’s ultimate ideas are, works against the raw ‘frightening’ reality he was trying to achieve.
Picture on the disc is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and anamorphically enhanced. Also included is a pan and scan full frame picture on the DVD’s reverse side. The quality of the image is superb with colours looking natural and having a distinct clarity. The, at times, bleak photography appears beautifully on the disc with shadow detail and contrast perfectly rendered. It should be noted that there is some grain noticeable in some of the more brightly photographed scenes, but I believe this is the way the director wanted the scenes to look rather than a fault of the disc. The print used is in pristine condition, as you’d expect, with no noticeable specks or dirt.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also very good with clearly audible dialogue and a good use of the surround capabilities. The wonderful sound accompanying the film, and playing a massive part in its effect, brilliantly comes to life around you. The feeling of being enveloped in the sound is consistent, especially in the more physically active scenes where the range of the audio really comes to life.
The only added features are a music video - ‘Half Light’ by Low with Tomandandy, and a creepy theatrical trailer. There are also some interesting production notes which briefly provide a history of the events that actually took place. In my opinion, these notes are scarier than the film.
The Mothman Prophecies is a solid thriller that profits if your expectations aren’t of wailing ghosts and constant cheap shocks. Its slow-burning mystery is its major attribute, but some average performances and a script that doesn’t quite know which angle or direction to head, let it down. The film is brought to DVD with no notable added features, but it is technically superb in both audio and visual departments.