Reed Alexander's Horror Review of 'The Mothman Prophecies' (2002)
If conspiracy had a superhero...
I did like this movie, though it’s not without its problems. It was a worthy attempt at being cerebral horror, and while I did find it lacking, this movie walked the very thin line between paranormal and madness. I wasn’t sure if I could recommend this movie at first, but over time it grew on me. I really grew to appreciate its presentation.
Now mind you, they start this by saying it's based on real events... LOOOOOSELY based on real events. There’s the legend of the Mothman and there are strange circumstances surrounding these legends. Sightings of the Mothman did seem to revolve around big disasters, but it's not like this movie even follows that legend very closely. It basically tries to bunch all of the Mothman sightings into one movie, with the most famous sighting as the big crescendo at the end. I guess that’s not really a spoiler if you know the legends.
The acting is actually pretty good. The atmosphere is just fantastic. It’s like an earlier episode of The X-Files when it was good. The plot is pretty convoluted, though actually easily digestible with just a little thought.
I don’t really think this is the kind of movie most horror heads would actually like, but it’s actually pretty good for riffing because it can be a bit over the top at times. I think this is more for general audiences and people who really appreciate cerebral horror.
Here's how you have to look at this movie. Is it a man's descent into madness after the death of his wife? His wife's death is so senseless and random, it’s reasonable he just wanted to find meaning in it. So, did he just latch on to an urban legend and then begins seeing the evidence where he wants to see it, so he can make some sense in a world of senselessness? Or is his wife, and everything that happened to him, a part of this fantastic paranormal event?
Watching the movie with that in mind gives it a dark crushing feeling of despair that almost carries it. Is the main character, John Klein, actually seeing and hearing the Mothman? Or has he just had a psychotic break, causing him to believe it? There's plenty of room to view the movie in both lights. He never talks to the Mothman around other people, there are scenes when he swears he didn't call other characters who have his voice on recordings, and there are times when other characters claim to have seen him when he has no knowledge of ever meeting them. All of these things could be explained by a psychotic breakdown. His mind conveniently represses the harsh reality of his wife's meaningless death and substitutes a supernatural stalker. But then, some of the stuff that happens can’t just be easily explained away and you the audience can only see the world Klein sees. And the way it’s portrayed seems so real, so at the very least Klein believes it.
If anyone has ever read my critique of The Possession of David O'Reilly on my Facebook page, I found it interesting that you were never completely certain if David was seeing demons, or if it was all in his head.
That's the difference that makes a good query about the circumstances in the plot. It's not the "Scooby-Doo Effect" because you never really know if the character is actually experiencing the supernatural events as presented. There is always a perfectly rational explanation lingering over the plot the whole time. No one ever takes the mask off and says, "Jinkies! It's old man Marley." You don't get to know if there was really ever a monster. You're left with just your imagination and the story as told.
That being said, the movie still wasn't totally convincing and I found that to be disappointing from time to time. You may want to give this movie a shot, especially if you’re into cerebral horror, but it’s not for everyone.