Thursday, October 13, 2016

THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES


When the Silver Bridge collapsed on December 15, 1976, 46 lives were lost and a mythology began to take shape. In the months prior to the disaster, strange events were supposedly taking place in the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Strange objects were seen in the skies. Men in black suits wandered through the town, questioning citizens, even threatening them. But most worrying of all were the sightings of a large, winged humanoid creature, a beast with a wingspan of ten feet and eyes like footballs that glowed red in the darkness of the night. Journalist and UFO enthusiast John Keel soon showed up in Point Pleasant to write an investigative report on the events. His conspiracy laden and fantastical tome, The Mothman Prophecies, tied all of these events together, reaching the conclusion that the Mothman might not have been a creature hellbent on terrorizing the community. It might have been trying to warn them of the impending catastrophe. 

Full disclosure: I am an atheist and a philosophical materialist. I do not believe in God. I also don’t believe in spirits, ghosts, extraterrestrial space craft, past lives, psychics, Loch Ness Monsters, Bigfoot (bigfeet?) or anything else for which there is no empirical evidence. I am skeptical of every claim of paranormal or cryptozoological activity. In short, I don’t buy it. Any of it. That isn’t to say that I am unwilling to look at evidences. That isn’t to say I am not willing to have my mind changed. In a way, I wish there were such things as ghosts, alien abductions, sea serpents and mothmen. But I see no reason to believe any of it. 

I say all of that because I run into a specific question quite often. People ask me “if you don’t believe in ghosts/monsters/etc, doesn’t that impact your ability to enjoy a movie featuring ghosts/monsters/etc?” I suppose that’s a valid question, but it isn’t really relevant. THE EXORCIST frightened me. SUSPIRIA frightened me. A great amount of films frightened me. None of them required me to believe in demonic possession, witches, werewolves or various monstrous entities. When I read Keel’s book, I found it a great read. It was interesting. It didn’t matter to me that it was bullshit. It was entertaining bullshit. I read it like someone would read a science fiction novel or a horror novel and was definitely entertained all the way through.

So why didn’t THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES film entertain me? Simply put, it has none of the scope or paranoiac tone of Keel’s book. It’s too slight a film, too slick and far too truncated. Instead of focusing on the events surrounding the town of Point Pleasant, it focuses on one man, Richard Gere’s John Keel stand-in, John Klein. Klein’s role in the film is less proactive than I would have liked. Most of the screen time is dedicated to him doing virtually nothing. The overall sense of encroaching mystery made the book work, but the film has none of that. The film is far too lackadaisical, too narrowly focused. It practically oozes atmosphere, don’t get me wrong, and contains moments that are skin crawlingly eerie, but the compressing of the films point of view hurts the translation to screen. 

Now how would I feel about the film if I never read the book? I don’t think it would have changed much. As I said, the film contains some great moments (the climactic bridge collapse is one of those moments, besting the more graphic, more expensive, bridge collapse from the recent FINAL DESTINATION 5) but it feels more like an extended episode of X-Files than it does a good standalone film. The creature is only glimpsed once or twice (and very briefly in an almost abstract way), a fact that will drive a monster fan nuts, and the characterization is flat and uninteresting. The best thing about the film, a subplot involving a possibly extraterrestrial creature who harasses Klein over the phone, makes the middle section of the film much more interesting than the dull beginning (which plays out like a second rate Twilight Zone episode) and it finishes strong with the aforementioned bridge collapse. There just really isn’t anything else to it. It’s hollow but pretty, filled with good moments that deserved better accompaniment. A disappointment if looked at as a whole. A very minor success if looked at in bits and pieces.

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