A reporter is drawn to a small West Virginia town to investigate a series of strange events, including psychic visions and the appearance of a bizarre, all-seeing entity. This tale of an unknown cryptid creature builds its tension slowly, through shadows and quiet conversations and is based on true events and encounters.
Amelia: I was eleven when The Mothman Prophecies first came out. It was right in the period of my life where me and my friends were watching every horror movie that came out. No surprise, we watched a lot of crap. And until a few years ago, I counted The Mothman Prophecies as one of those crappy movies. When it was put on at one of the many sleepovers I went to, it ended up putting the bunch of us to sleep. When I saw it on Netflix a few years ago, I remembered how boring it was and put it on as background noise to go to sleep to. I ended up watching it raptly from start to finish and have since declared it one of my favourite non-conventional horror films!
Billy: I had never seen this film before Amelia recommended it, though I’ve definitely watched it with keen interest several times since. It’s unusual to say the least. I mean, Richard Gere, Debra Messing, and Laura Linney in a horror film? Excitement doesn’t exactly leap off the screen. This a quiet movie. Tension builds in the silence and shadows of the story, where shared hallucinations and unknown appearances of an omnipotent cryptid unsettle the viewer with the inference that it could actually exist. Imagine that as a concept anywhere else. Horror, not because the creature will be harmful, but simply that it might be. It doesn’t even become horror until a sizable chunk of time through the film, spending an achingly long time creating backstory and motivation that would be given a throwaway line in any lesser film. The Mothman Prophecies uses tone with such carefully planned craft. You can tell there’s thought and intention put into every shot.
Amelia: Yeah, Richard Gere in a horror movie does seem odd, doesn’t it? Horror isn’t exactly known for the talent. It’s where people go to start their movie careers, not when they’re already established and at Gere’s level. Thing is though, this story called for someone who could act. This isn’t a slasher flick filled with blood and co-eds with their tits out. It’s a horror movie that depends on subtleness. When Gere is on the phone with the Mothman, asking him questions that he couldn’t possibly have the answers to and yet he’s answering them correctly, his fright is shown through ragged breathing, his voice getting quieter as he retreats into himself. A close up on his eyes shows them darting around as he tries to makes sense of what’s happening to him.
Likewise, Laura Linney does an amazing job as the small town’s sheriff that’s helpless to stop what’s happening. Strange sightings, disturbing phone calls, prophetic dreams; it’s out of her realm of experience and she struggles with knowing that whatever the Mothman is, it shouldn’t be.
Billy: There is such beautiful imagery in this film. When Richard Gere gets out of his car to inspect the scene of his wife’s crash, the dual red eyes of his car’s taillights in the darkness infer the Mothman’s presence in the background. Each instance of these images in the objective world casts doubt about what Mary saw, yet the film itself never questions it. It’s part of the wonder and awe that this film inspires. The way the camera makes streetlights hang in ethereal orbs suspended in mid-air is mystical. The way he leans forward in a leather chair and it makes a sound like a growling tiger is another great way that locations are used to build the world on a subconscious level. It’s all working together to put you off of the idea of the Mothman existing and explain him as something from the real world. The disjunction mocks you as a viewer who’s trying to pull the thing apart.
Amelia: The Mothan Prophecies is atmospherically stunning. The titular character of the piece, the Mothman, is in the movie only as a part of the atmosphere. The entity (believed to be an alien in the regional folklore that spawned it) is and isn’t a terrifying entity. If you’re not paying attention, this movie appears to be nothing more than Richard Gere talking on the phone and Laura Linney doing a West Virginian accent. Follow along and there’s an all-seeing but unseen creature dropping cryptic hints of future disasters. Why? What’s it getting from passing along the information? Is it doing it for good or for more nefarious purposes?
Come the end of this movie, the disaster that the Mothman predicted occurs in a dramatic sequence of practical effects and slow motion realizations from the characters. There’s no gore, no confrontation with the evil entity. There’s not really any closure either. It’s striking and tense, the perfect climax for all the hints and cryptic messages dropped throughout the story. The questions it raises as it methodically works its way towards the end outweigh the answers you receive. The narrative just ends. Nothing is solved, no real answers have been ascertained. You don’t see a lot of movies that end on that note and it sticks with you because of that.
Billy: There are so many other good moments of the film worth mentioning. When John visits Gordon and Denise’s home and is mistaken for the manifestation of the Mothman, the film transforms into an intimate thriller with guns pointed at our hero backed into a corner. The way it’s shot in close ups makes it look like a student film, and I mean that positively. It’s tense and personal, with a genuine sense that anything could happen. Gere on the phone with the Mothman is a terrifying exercise in darkness. A one on one dialogue that doesn’t need any images to be effective. The bridge sequence delivers a blockbuster experience that cuts through the tension. Practical effects and model making are practically a lost art nowadays, but The Mothman Prophecies delivered a sequence that redefined this quiet, thoughtful film for ten minutes of hectic blockbuster chaos. It’s almost cathartic.
Amelia: Seven and a half Mothmen out of ten
The Mothman Prophecies is a non-conventional horror movie but it’ll still give you a thrill if you’re patient with it. You absolutely have to be paying attention or all the creepy, little mysteries are going to be lost on you. The brief moments of fright strewn throughout create a slow but tense build-up until it explodes in the final ten minutes and everything comes together in a spectacular climax.
Billy: Seven Mothmen out of ten
I’ve never seen another horror movie quite like The Mothman Prophecies, and I’m still not entirely convinced that it was horror to begin with. It wasn’t quite a ghost movie and it definitely wasn’t a monster movie either. The best term I can give to it is that it’s a cryptid movie, confusing and intricate in a way that sticks to your brain. It questions your understanding of the world and gives you an awareness of something new in the corner of your eye. The fantastic bridge sequence is almost unnecessary. The real work of the movie is done in the tone.