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With: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Debra Messing, Will Patton, Alan Bates, Lucinda Jenney, David Eigenberg, Ann McDonough, Nesbitt Blaisdell, Bill Laing
Written by: Richard Hatem, based on the book by John A. Keel
Directed by: Mark Pellington
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for terror, some sexuality and language
Running Time: 119
Date: 01/25/2002

The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Mothman' Walking

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When I was in elementary school, our school library had a particular book that all the kids eventually pored over. It was a nonfiction book exploring the existence of ghosts. If I remember correctly, it was a slender preteen's volume, not delving too deeply into anything, but it did include a photograph of a spectral figure floating in a hallway that we couldn't stop ogling. Whether or not the picture was faked didn't matter, it gave us all chills just the same. Just the slightest possibility that ghosts might exist made the little hairs on the back of our necks stand on end. The new film The Mothman Prophecies successfully plays on such reactions.

According to the novel (by John A. Keel) that the movie is based on, the mothman events -- and their ultimate conclusion -- actually happened in Point Pleasant, W. Va., in 1966 and '67. The film's advertising plays up the fact that the movie is "based on true events," even if the finished film probably has even less to do with reality than A Beautiful Mind does. But here it just doesn't matter. Even if only one one-hundredth is true, we're still sucked in.

Richard Gere stars as Washington Post reporter John Klein. Just as he and his wife (Debra Messing) are on the verge of buying a house, she swerves to avoid hitting a black figure flying at the windshield -- a figure that Klein does not see -- and smashes her head against the window. After a brief hospital stay, she passes away (though it turns out she already had a brain tumor and wouldn't have lived much longer anyway). Cleaning out her hospital room after her death, Klein finds her journal filled with scrawled drawings of the spooky figure. Was she hallucinating, or was the figure real?

Two years later, Klein sets out to do an interview with the governor and unexpectedly winds up 400 miles out of his way in a small West Virginia hick town. His car breaks down in the middle of the night, and he walks to the nearest house. The shotgun-toting owner of the house (Will Patton) insists that Klein has shown up three nights in a row at the same time. A friendly cop named Connie Parker (Oscar nominee Laura Linney) shows up to defuse the situation, but Klein can't shake the feeling that something weird is going on. Officer Parker confides in Klein that more weird stuff has been happening -- from strange phone calls to sightings of the same "mothman" that Klein's wife saw. The mothman seems to be able to predict major accidents with lots of deaths, and Klein becomes obsessed with discovering and preventing the next big tragedy.

Director Mark Pellington's previous feature films, Going All the Way and Arlington Road, did not impress me; but here his job is to keep the story's "unknown" factor just out of reach until the big climax, and he mostly accomplishes that. Many scenes succeed through their wonderful whispery closeness -- the movie contains refreshingly few big, explosive moments. Pellington inserts sinister little throwaway shots here and there: a doll with creepy blue eyes, a mirror, a painting. One scene has Klein on the phone with the mysterious mothman, drawing the shades of his hotel room and turning out the lights to prove to himself that the mothman is not spying on him through the windows. (The mothman is still able to "see" into his room.) That the scene has a logical reason for taking place in the dark makes it much scarier.

Unfortunately, the little chilling tidbits become repetitious in the film's second hour, and things begin to drag until we reach the big climax. The film also suffers from a few uneven chunks in both dialogue and story logic. In short, The Mothman Prophecies lacks the intelligence or precision of The Others or The Sixth Sense, but it remains a solid, spooky entertainment worthy of the price of a ticket.

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