The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

Rating: B

Dir: Mark Pellington
Star: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Will Patton, Alan Bates

Any film allegedly “inspired by true events” is usually on shaky ground, as reality is rarely cinematic, and so veracity is inevitably an early casualty. This film time-shifts things 35 years forward into the present, and adds Gere as a journalist grieving for his wife, who gets drawn in to provide a handy center which was never present. That aside – and a horrible “heroic” climax where the movie reverses intent – what we have is a hugely creepy, generally highly effective ghost story, that captures the off-kilter nature of paranormal phenomena, by focusing on those who experience them and their reactions.

The Mothman monster is barely glimpsed, save for eye-witness sketches, yet such an air of foreboding builds that a relatively minor shock had the entire cinema leaping, in a way not seen since Final Destination. Gere is impressive: his character is normally so self-assured, yet now finds himself well outside normal experience, not even knowing how he arrived in town; Patton is also superb as the focus of the spookiness. It’s sad, but probably necessary in modern Hollywood, that the makers felt the need to tie everything up and shove a half-explanation at us – for this is at its most effective when we’re all left to wonder what that is, lurking in the shadows.