Mark Pellington’s The Mothman Prophecies is my kind of paranormal scary movie, the sort that can’t be explained, won’t be explained, and doesn’t want to be explained. Less a ghost story and more a tale of the literal unknown, the film is “based on true events” and eschewed blood and gore in favor of extreme atmospherics and genuine tension. Richard Gere, playing in a genre that he’s not normally accustomed too, was excellent as a grieving widower who is hell bent on figuring out what his dead wife saw immediately before a major car accident, which revealed a long gestating brain tumor, which leads to her death. Laura Linney, hot off of her Oscar nomination for her bravura performance in You Can Count On Me, was strong as a local cop who helps Gere put the shadowy pieces of the puzzle together, and Will Patton did some reliable and unnerving character work as a man suffering from a similar set of circumstances to Gere’s. The fact that so many separate people had the same sort of visitations or experiences are what makes The Mothman Prophecies all the more strange and unsettling. The big set piece of the film occurs in the final beats of the home stretch, and shows the insane and catastrophic destruction of a small-town bridge, one that’s loaded with cars and passengers; it’s one of the best examples of disaster related action I’ve seen. Seemingly accomplished with little to no CGI, this sequence is a masterclass of editing, cinematography, sound effects, camera placement, and shot selection, with each image blistering into the next, causing a rush of dangerous excitement. None of it looks shot on a studio back lot, there are no noticeable green screen shots, the stunt work is exceptional, and the entire thing feels entirely realistic. I can remember seeing this film in the theater, alone, and being thoroughly sketched out by it, if for no other reason than that I actually believed it. I am not one for horror movies, I don’t believe in “ghosts,” and while I hold out some hope that I’ll see a UFO at some point in my life, the scare-tactics genre is one that I’m not a huge fan of. But The Mothman Prophecies is something different, a chiller born out of character and motivation more than anything else, and if even a shred of it is to be believed or at least empathized with, then something truly strange and sinister did occur in Point Pleasant, VA all those years ago. Fred Murphy’s mostly nocturnal widescreen cinematography fills the frame with varying shades of darkness, takes full advantage of moonlight, and even has the chance to get expressionistic with some of the images; that’s the artist in Pellington, infusing a genre entry with more class and style than is normally expected, and it goes a long way in keeping the effectively familiar narrative from ever going stale. And it goes without saying, the creepy musical score by tomandandy amps up the anxiety, fully complimenting Pellington’s assured visual compositions while never intruding on Gere’s emotionally affecting performance.


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