The Mothman Prophecies
directed by Mark Pellington
(Sony, 2002)

Star Washington Post reporter John Klein is driving through the night to an interview with the governor of Virginia. Since his wife died, he's been unable to sleep, not much use at work and strenuously avoiding all matchmaking efforts of his colleagues. Then, somewhere between Washington, D.C., and Richmond, his car just dies.

Turns out, though, Klein (Richard Gere) is nowhere near Richmond. He's in the lonely stretches outside Point Pleasant, W.Va., hours from where he's supposed to be -- and an impossible distance away from Washington. How'd he get there? How'd he get there in just a couple hours? And just what does all this have to do with the big, smoky, winged dent in the front grille of his car?

Those are all the cues to start the spooky music in The Mothman Prophecies, a movie that's based on original events, as they say, combining sightings of an otherworldly creature near the real Point Pleasant, W.Va., and another event that occurred in that vicinity (no spoiler here).

When Klein's car breaks down and he approaches a modest country home, he's met and cornered by Gordon Smallwood, an armed homeowner who demands to know why Klein keeps coming to his house in the middle of the night. Local police officer Connie Parker comes to the Smallwoods' house, calms Gordon and drives Klein into town where he can grab a hotel room and get his car towed in the morning. There've been lots of unexplained phenomena going on, Connie tells him, lots of "good God-fearing people" who are seeing things, hearing things, fearing things.

When Klein visits the Smallwoods the next day, he notices it in the yard: the blackened imprint of ... something ... in a backyard tree. It matches the dent in his car.

So Klein stays, interviewing the townsfolk about their weird phone calls, the flashes of red, the bright lights and voices that are encircling Point Pleasant in a web of dread and suspicion. And he tries to figure out how all this involves him -- which it must, since his wife, before she died, was drawing dark, uncontrolled sketches of the same thing appearing to the good people of Point Pleasant.

It's the feeling of being observed, of being tracked by some omniscient creature that doesn't necessarily wish you well, that gives The Mothman Prophecies its spookier moments. It's having your own thoughts supplanted by something else's voice, of the unease when things aren't right and you sense they're about to get worse, of realizing how little control you have even if you know what's going to happen, that gives it its edge.

Laura Linney, as Parker, gives the role the kind of steady, sensible weight it deserves, a voice of calm even when she's frightened. Will Patton, as Gordon Smallwood, also has the right face and timbre for an upstanding man caught up with panic and visions he can't explain.

But that leaves Gere. Director Mark Pellington, who headed 1999's Arlington Road, a similar movie along the themes of paranoia and thriller, has a tough time here getting past Gere's impassive way of acting. And so instead of seeming like a man whose beloved wife's death has left him bereft, whose current experiences are beyond the realm of his knowledge or his faith, Gere's John Klein just seems like a man who's having a really, really tense vacation among strangers. Mothman's creepiness and darkness comes more from the cinematography, from the bleak locations in wintry western Pennsylvania, than it does from its star's reaction to a dark creature of terrifying knowledge.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 26 April 2003

Buy the DVD from