The Mothman Prophecies
In 1966, the residents of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, began experiencing a strange series of events, all seemingly tied to the appearance of a tall, winged creature with eyes, as one witness put it, like "bicycle reflectors." Dozens of citizens reported sighting the creature they dubbed Mothman, which had apparently taken up residence in an abandoned dynamite factory. Mysterious men with bowl haircuts began showing up and asking odd questions. Eventually, a bridge collapsed, and while no mothmen showed up for the event, people harbored their suspicions. Among them was John Keel, an investigator of paranormal happenings who, after witnessing the strangeness of Point Pleasant, turned his experience into the 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies. Keel has made a career of fitting unexplained occurrences into an overarching theory about the persistence of ancient gods in modern times. His template is expansive enough to explain just about any odd event, and the film that shares a title with Keel's book exploits that vagueness for all it's worth. Directed by Mark Pellington (Arlington Road) and updated to the present day, Mothman relies on a Keel surrogate (named "Leek" and played by Alan Bates) to clear matters up when they get too murky, by showing Washington Post reporter Richard Gere a mothman-like being in a (clearly cooked-up) cave painting and dropping references to "ancient cultures" as conclusive proof. How seriously does the film take the theory? As with all things, only as seriously as it needs to, in order to generate scares. After making a widower of Gere in the film's opening sequence by flying at his car, the Mothman later retreats to more subtle tactics, like prank phone calls. Rather than suggesting a link to ancient mythology, the film's Mothman seems governed by the laws of cinematic convenience, shape-shifting to accommodate whatever scary scenes best serve the purposes of Pellington and screenwriter Richard Hatem. Much to his credit, Pellington makes the film fly for long stretches. Confidently (almost overconfidently) directed, Mothman summons up more scares out of old horror war-horses like computer-distorted voices than ought to be possible at this point. Though "mounting paranoia" remains well outside of his emotional range, Gere lends the film added credibility, as does the supporting castwhich includes the dependable Bates, Laura Linney, and Will Pattonand a creepy ambient score by the duo tomandandy. Nonetheless, the film never amounts to more than the sum of a few good moments, and it leaves the aftertaste of a second-tier X-Files episode, which is the sort of mystery even Keel might not be able to explain. The sense that Pellington never wants to play fair with his bogeyman probably has a lot to do with it.