Summary: Unfocused and ultimately frustrating, but it does have its moments.
What luck! No sooner do we get a movie based on a cryptozoological legend, then we turn around a week later and here’s another one. If I was to hazard a guess, I’d say the piles of greenbacks reaped by The Sixth Sense and the X-Files have sent screenwriters digging through the “New Age” section of their local Barnes & Noble. I’m not complaining.
Here, Richard Gere stars as a reporter caught up in some very strange events in the small town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. His arrival in town is itself an anomaly: His car conks out on a lonely country road (at night of course), and he suddenly discovers he’s 400 miles from where he’s supposed to be. Usually one at least experiences the fun of being completely inebriated when this happens, but Gere is unfortunately sober.
From there, he’s drawn deeper and deeper into the supernatural. Townspeople receive phone calls from him which he never made. He receives calls himself, from a strange individual named “Indrid Cold” who claims foreknowledge of future events. Instead of asking Indrid to name tomorrow’s pick-six at Santa Anita, Gere asks him stuff like where his watch is hidden. Then Gere keeps running into his wife in the streets and his bedroom, which might not be so objectionable if she weren’t dead. All the while, Gere goes through the movie with a facial expression like an elephant had just trod on his foot. Personally, I would love it if cool things like this happened to me. Anyway, he and town sheriff Laura Linney begin to sense something terrible is about to happen in Point Pleasant, if they could only figure out what.
Director Mark Pellington and writer Richard Hatem drastically pare down the allegedly true events of 1967 in an attempt to make a coherent argument that they were connected to the infamous collapse of Point Pleasant’s Silver Bridge. Unfortunately, the movie remains a confused hodgepodge of scenes and occurrences which barely intermesh. There are several shots where Pellington deliberately throws the camera out of focus, reducing the onscreen images to blurry, unidentifiable shapes and colors; the bad news is these shots serve as an apt metaphor for the entire film.
To add to the problem, Hatem invents scenes which occur for no logical reason except to try to make the audience think “Ooh, that’s creepy!” For example, when Gere knocks on Will Patton’s door to ask to use the phone, Patton greets him with a shotgun and insists it’s the third night in a row Gere has come calling. There simply is no point to this happening. In the same vein, Gere keeps seeing momentary flashes of his deceased wife. What does this have to do with the mothman trying to warn Gere of the upcoming bridge disaster? Somehow, the explanation offered that “[The mothman’s] motivations are not human” seems an extremely lame excuse for the vast holes in the logic of the plot.
The final scenes featuring the bridge collapsing are the film’s highlight, and actually make an interesting climax. Unfortunately, the cinematographer apparently filmed them during an earthquake, so bring some Dramamines. I was left wondering whether this movie would have been better if Hatem and Pellington had dispensed entirely with the “true events,” and just made up a coherent story out of whole cloth which led up to the collapse of a fictional bridge.
Finally, I’m sure you’re dying to hear my opinion of the supposedly true events. Some things I think you should know:
1. Richard Gere’s character was based on John Keel, whose book The Mothman Prophecies formed the basis for this movie. However, unlike Gere’s stalwart reporter with no previous experience in the supernatural, Keel had written several books on UFOs prior to his arrival in Point Pleasant, and had deliberately come to Point Pleasant for the express purpose of writing another one.
2. The mothman was a seven-foot tall winged creature allegedly sighted by residents of Point Pleasant. He was never connected to the mysterious phone calls Keel was receiving at the time. Hatem and Pellinger decided to omit the mothman sightings from their movie, but apparently couldn’t resist the appeal of including “Mothman” in the title. So they rewrote the events to make the mothman responsible for the calls.
3. There is no documented evidence (other than Keel’s word) that any of Indrid Cold’s predictions ever came true. Keel himself later admitted at least some of the calls were traced back to fellow UFO writer (and West Virginia resident) Gray Barker. This is particularly interesting, since it was Keel and Barker whose books were entirely responsible for introducing the “Men In Black” into UFO lore. Think it’s a coincidence that MIB were sighted many times in Point Pleasant while all the other strange things were supposedly happening? Think it’s a coincidence that when Indrid Cold wants to warn somebody, he happens to choose John Keel – the one guy in town who’s writing a UFO book?
4. Contrary to what the film states, a definite (and purely rational) explanation for the bridge collapse was determined. The Silver Bridge was a suspension design, but instead of steel cables forming the graceful swooping arcs on either side of the roadway, chains constructed of pin-linked eyebars were employed. One of the eyebars was determined to have had a residual crack from the forging process, which enlarged over time due to corrosion fatigue. Eventually, the eyebar failed, causing the chain to break and that entire side of the bridge to collapse. Aren’t you glad you asked?
5. Part of the mothman legend is that all the paranormal phenomena suddenly came to a halt after the Silver Bridge went for a dip in the Ohio River. This isn’t true; although the papers devoted less attention to subsequent reports, strange sightings continued for months afterward. Indeed, strange reports had been occurring for many months previously. Mothman first “appeared” on November 15, 1966, more than a year prior to the bridge disaster. In fact, it was these strange sightings which brought Keel to Point Pleasant to write his book in the first place.
Still think The Mothman Prophecies was real? I have a bridge I can sell you, cheap.