Spooky Season is here, and thrillers are a close cousin to horror movies. Rico and I decided to put the ridiculous movies aside and actually watch something that we might both consider to be good.
Rico and I share a common love of supernatural creatures and their lore. They might not be real, but there is a kind of magic that doesn't quite go away. Cryptids aren't like Santa Clause or the Tooth Fairy. I don't necessarily believe in Big Foot, but it would be pretty awesome if they did exist and I don't dismiss people who believe they've encountered one.
The Mothman is a lesser-known cryptid, and there is a lot of speculation surrounding him/her/it. Mothman does not have a sound and does no harm. People's reported sightings vary from "moth-like" to "owl-like," but it always has red eyes and flies. Few have spoken of its presence as threatening. Some people believe that the Mothman heralds great tragedies. There were sightings before the 9/11 tragedy, before large earthquakes, even some before mass shootings and fires. I like to believe this theory; like it's some angel-like figure that comes to warn people and save as many lives as possible but can't communicate. Nice story. Creepy, but nice.
That being said, let's dive into The Mothman Prophecies and see how the movie decided to interpret the events at Point Pleasant, VA.
We begin with a happy couple, John and Mary Klein, who have just bought a new house. It's the house of their dreams at the cheapest price available. At first, I thought this was about to be a monster-in-the-house kind of movie. The trope is written in so well that I'm fully off the scent. This didn't seem like the thriller movie I was expecting.
That is, until, they get into a car accident and everything changes.
Mary, hospitalized, claims to have seen something and obsesses over it until her death. John finds her notebook full of drawings of "angels," as the nurse claims. If I had overseen someone drawing those black and red figures, I would never have called them angels. They look more like demons to me...
Regardless, two years pass before anything truly comes of this revelation. John is a well-respected reporter for The Washington Post. He seems to be struggling to move on from Mary, so when his buddy tries to hook him up with someone else, John goes on a very long drive into the night. It seems he has an important interview to make, and instead of sleeping he's going to drive all the way there.
Somehow, he ends up in Point Pleasant, Virginia, which is in the opposite direction of where he was driving and further than he could have ever gotten by car in that short amount of time. On top of all that, his car breaks down and when he tries to go to the nearest house for help, the owners point a gun at him and claim that John has been around the house for the last three nights.
After sorting out that mess, the police officer, Connie, explains that a lot of strange things have been happening the last few months. People have been seeing this ominous figure, and the drawings look almost exactly like the ones Mary drew two years prior. This sends John into a spiraling investigation that nearly costs him his job, his sanity, and his life.
There are a couple of things I appreciate about the characterizations of just about everyone. With the exception of John (who makes a lot of dumb, impulsive decisions), everyone reacts just as I'd expect them to in real life. Connie is trying to make sense of all the reports she's been given. She has always lived in Point Pleasant, and she knows a lot of these people personally. They're not crazy, and she never treats these folks like they're lying. Her job is to soothe the townspeople, and she's doing it the best way she knows how.
Gordon Smallwood is the guy who almost shoots John on sight. He truly believes that John has been stalking them for the last few nights, and he feels threatened. Gordon is a good man and he's just trying to protect his wife and himself. When he begins to believe that something otherworldly exists, he thinks he's crazy at first. If God started talking to you without much warning he was going to, I don't think you'd first think you were actually talking to God. Insanity or a physical ailment is what a reasonable person would believe first.
John and Connie go around Point Pleasant and interview some of the people who have claimed to see things. The young lovers seem supportive of each other, and their terrifying encounter has solidified their relationship. The old woman who lives alone is shocked but earnest in her report. Even Connie herself reports, in private, a strange dream in which she's floating in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by presents, and she's dying. She doesn't seem to take much stock in it, but the dream still scares her. Everyone is searching for the meaning behind their encounters, all the strangeness that's happening, but for the most part, they move on with their lives.
All but John Klein.
Desperation is John's middle name. He even goes insofar as to contact a so-called expert named Alexander Leek. Leek essentially tells him that he's seen the Mothman, and to leave it alone. In fact, he should leave Point Pleasant because something awful is about to happen. Again, it's a reasonable suggestion if you know what the Mothman is about and believe in that version of its story. Of course, John isn't a reasonable character and can't leave it alone.
Now let's get into the part where the myth starts to take on a Hollywood feel.
I would never call the Mothman the "bad guy" of this film. He is the antagonist, sure, but he is not a villain. Much like in real life, he seems to herald tragedies, but instead of just showing up, the Mothman is able to communicate a little more information. Gordon Smallwood becomes a disciple of the Mothman, which I think says more about Gordon than the Mothman. Again, his reaction is almost reasonable. To bring in God again, if you decided that you weren't insane, there was nothing physically wrong with you, and God kept making accurate predictions, perhaps you'd be a devoted believer, too.
John actually gets to talk to the Mothman, who is here called Indrid Cold. Over the phone, Indrid Cold makes some incredible predictions to prove that he exists and that he knows more than he lets on. Here, the Mothman is more threatening than anything, even though he's not really doing anything sinister. John panics, perhaps reasonably, but the dramatic effect they were going for is a bit strange when the scariest word in the whole scene is "chapstick."
I won't say it's bad writing or directing. There was nothing definitively wrong with the scene, and the slow grind up to this point made me believe every emotion John was having. What I am saying is that the "proof" John requires goes on a little too long, and I wish there was something more frightening about it. There is so much lead-up to this moment of discovery that I wanted more. Perhaps that's the whole point of the Mothman: we only get a glimpse and we are never satisfied. Leek alludes to this notion, which is why he tells John to knock it off with the searching.
Of course, that wouldn't make a very compelling movie, would it?
Of course, we can't forget about the love subplot. This is probably the most subtle, genuine kind of love that I've ever seen in a movie. John is still distraught over the loss of his wife two years prior and isn't quite ready to let go. His search for the Mothman is tied very closely to his inability to accept his loss and move on. Several times, Mary makes an "appearance" in some way, almost taunting John.
Connie is John's rock throughout the film. When he's flying off the handle, running in circles trying to figure out this Mothman thing, she's the one who is telling him that he's overreacting, or that maybe there's nothing to this. She is John's foil in a lot of ways, but they share a common desire to figure out what's going on. She never really tells John that he's wrong and vice versa. They support each other in their own ways while allowing the other the freedom to do as they wish.
Probably the best way to illustrate this is the last phone call that is made in the movie. John goes back to his home in Georgetown to wait for a call from his dead wife. It's Christmas Eve and Connie calls a few minutes before to tell John she's bought a ticket for him to fly back to Point Pleasant. She doesn't want him to be alone on a holiday and she tries to talk him out of waiting for Mary. Ultimately, she leaves the decision up to him, but she allows him an out and tries her best to help.
This isn't the romantic, over the top, dramatic love story we're used to in movies. This isn't the kind of love John had for Mary. Connie and John never kiss, there's no real "romantic moment" between them. Still, there is a kind of affection they share, and one I think is incredibly genuine and likable.
In the end, a great tragedy does happen in Point Pleasant. The Silver Bridge collapses, killing 36 people (this incident did actually happen in real life, though the death toll was higher). The chaos of the final scene is oddly satisfying. Emotionally, the audience is at a point where we believe but we've given up trying to interpret the information. We kind of just want to see John happy. When the "prophecy" is validated, there's just enough action and drama to keep us on the edge of our seats. It's not overblown, but it's still terrifying. When the action is over, John and Connie have a moment shared where they both know that the Mothman's prediction came true, and they were both warned in different ways. The handling of this revelation is gentle, just enough that we know Connie believes and just vague enough that we aren't being hand-held through the transition out of the story.
Overall, I liked the film. I'm not sure if I'd recommend it to someone who wasn't into cryptids or supernatural sightings. The movie itself is well-paced, well-written, and very well-directed, but I could see how just the subject matter can be off-putting to some people. If you're looking for something a bit off-kilter this October, you might consider renting this one and giving it a shot.