The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
“You will see her, in time.”
Director Mark Pellington’s hugely disturbing exploration of prophesy, obsession, grief and loss is one of the subtlest and most unsettling examples of the modern storyteller’s art. Slowly brought to the boil by some excellent cinematography and the expert use of a non-musical sound score, The Mothman Prophecies manages to make the fantastical feel entirely credible.
Loosely based on accounts of the real-life Silver Bridge disaster, The Mothman Prophecies follows the story of a troubled man searching for answers that simply do not exist. Expertly shot in the freezing emptiness of flyover country, the bleak photography and slow-burn storyline somehow produce an ambient grey chill that seeps out of the screen and settles on the necks and spines of an unsuspecting audience.
Richard Gere steps outside his normal typecast boundaries to deliver a good performance as John Klein, a high-flying journalist who is haunted by the sudden death of his wife. That haunting takes a dangerous turn as it begins to manifest outside of Klein’s own imagination, inexplicably drawing him to an obscure town and leaving him with no knowledge of how he arrived there. As he probes deeper into his own experiences, Klein is forced to accept that the course of his life has been influenced by the same psychological contagion that’s consuming this icy backwater Virginian backwater.
The ever reliable Laura Linney plays the Main Street sheriff who’s struggling to come to terms with the strange sightings and bizarre events that are so unsettling her once peaceful community. Her well rounded character brings her own brand of hard-won wisdom to the increasingly sinister events as they unfold. However, the unsung star of this movie is undoubtedly Will Patton. His portrayal of a small town working man is the very antithesis of the learned mystic who seeks out prophetic powers. This makes Patton’s portrayal of Gordon Smallwood all the more compelling as the luckless labourer is driven first out of his mind and then into his grave by the Mothman’s obscure prophecies, predictions and pronouncements.
This is a brilliantly conceived movie that embraces the Mothman symbolism as somehow both cause and warning of impending disaster. The on-screen action constantly recycles and re-imagines that symbolism to form an overarching pattern that can be felt intuitively but never understood rationally. The Mothman is everywhere, and yet nowhere to be found. His eyes shine through the warning lights of our safety-obsessed world, whilst his voice echoes through the static buzz of phone lines and electrical systems, with no point of origin and no observable design.
Perhaps more than anything else, The Mothman Prophecies is an examination of chance and chaos, those universal forces we attempt to extinguish through learning, reason and ever-increasing organisation. Just like the point, the line and the circle, the Mothman’s mark is an integral part the Divine language, meaning that we unwittingly codify him into our collective experience, and sometimes find him waiting in the shadows of the seemingly ordered world we make for ourselves. We will never be free of the Mothman because we carry him with us wherever we go.
The great strength of the Mothman Prophecies is its unwavering commitment to a real and enduring mystery. The otherworldly prognosticator known only as Indrid Cold is never explained or justified, nor can he be. Is he real or imagined, angel or demon, benign or malevolent? The only certainty is that his appearance heralds disaster for both the communities he blights and those unlucky souls who hear his call from beyond the veil. This stubborn but well-judged refusal to allow the viewer any satisfying conclusion infuses the idea of the inexplicable into the viewer’s mind, where it lingers long after the credits have rolled.
Watch the trailer here and enjoy one of the most unremittingly creepy movies of modern times.