THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2002) Reviews and overview

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‘Based on true events’

The Mothman Prophecies is a 2002 American mystery horror film about a reporter drawn to a West Virginia town to investigate strange events.

Directed by Mark Pellington (Arlington Road), from a screenplay written by Richard Hatem, based on the book by John Keel. The Lakeshore Entertainment production stars Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Will Patton, Debra Messing and Alan Bates.

The film makes the claim of being based on actual events. The real-life Point Pleasant, West Virginia, welcomes visitors with its official Mothman Museum, a Mothman Festival (featuring a Miss Mothman beauty contest), and a large statue of Mothman in the public common, with whom many a tourist has taken a selfie.


Following strange visions reported by his late wife prior to her death from brain cancer, a reporter (Richard Gere) ventures to the small Ohio/West Virginia border town of Point Pleasant. There he finds much mysterious phenomena afoot – including false reports that he has already been there.

The sense of ominous déjà vu seems tied to residents being frightened by apparitions of a large, bird-shaped humanoid with luminous eyes. There is also the matter of a strange voice on the telephone of someone calling himself – or itself – “Indrid Cold.”


The late John Keel was a writer specializing in strange phenomena – UFOs, monster reports, all that good stuff that makes fabulous reading in every month’s Fortean Times magazine. Keel himself collected an omnibus of such odd and dubious marvels in his 1970 book Strange Creatures from Time and Space (I own the paperback with the Frank Frazetta cover; hope I get a fortune when I become poor enough to have to sell).

It was a chapter from that encyclopedia of monsters that Keel expanded into his possibly best-known book, 1975’s The Mothman Prophecies. With Keel inserting himself into a bizarre what-was-it? narrative in the manner of “new journalism,” the book made a culty alternative to all the Nixon White House exposes and Watergate memoirs that were meanwhile lining all the bookshop shelves at the time.

Finally, in 2002, this hit-or-miss adaptation of The Mothman Prophecies appeared in cinemas, a somewhat overproduced pupa of paranormal paranoia, not strictly a faithful version of the Keel manuscript and arguably owing a little bit more to The X-Files (although the debt The X-Files owed to John Keel speaks for itself).

John Klein (Richard Gere) plays a Washington Post reporter who loses his beloved wife (Debra Messing) to a brain tumour – but not before she sees a red-eyed apparition on the streets of Georgetown that makes her crash her auto. Two years later, Klein, on a job-related road trip, suffers time/space displacement that makes him arrive in the Ohio River town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

There he learns that doppelganger-double of himself has already been seen for the last two nights, harassing a villager named Gordie (Will Patton). Other locals have been bugged by a red-eyed, eight-foot phantom with a screechy yowl.

Klein is one of those Tintin-style journalists who seem to have unlimited time and expense accounts and rarely is shown ever doing anything as mundane as filing a news story. He lingers with the attractive town sheriff (Laura Linney), while Gordie divulges facts and figures that seem to foretell some coming disaster. There is also an otherworldly entity involved calling itself Indrid Cold (its spooky voice is actually screenwriter Richard Hatem).

Klein sees more visions of his late wife and finds time to go to Chicago and consult eccentric Alexander Leek (Alan Bates), who seems to know more about the Mothman than anyone alive. Which is not very much. Leek (`Keel’ spelt backwards, you will note) describes such entities as timeless, extra-dimensional beings, often misinterpreted as angels, demons or UFO phenomena (in the paranormal biz, I can tell you, the great catch-all term is “ultraterrestrial”), entities far removed from common humanity – at least usually. So why is this one taking an interest?

Director Mark Pellington plays some funky CGI tricks in the cinematography and manages to make the Ohio/West Virginia border look like something akin to Transylvania with the digital filters. He also coaxes decent performances from Gere and the cast. Perhaps most courageously, he did not succumb to the temptation to actually show a fancy Mothman creature-suit or digital monster; a full reveal is left to the viewer’s imagination. Still, the feature remains a lot like, well, more of a caterpillar than a fully-formed thing that can take flight. It’s colourful and strange, but rather ambling and lacking much of a spine.

Nice metaphor, eh? The thing you won’t learn from the movie is that the reason this creature got tagged “Mothman” by the American press was that as these alleged incidents unfolded in the late 1960s, the campy Adam West Batman TV programme was all the rage. Newspapers, relating the material with tongue in cheek (sorry, real-life `John Klein,’ whoever you weren’t), just riffed on the Gotham City avenger and dubbed the winged horror – who hovered rather than flew – Mothman. There is a very obscure Batman villain named Killer Moth, but that means nothing other than I have questionable viewing habits.

In fact, some of the press initially came up with a different label, “Big Bird,” but it did not take flight (you can see silly cartoon-bird drawings in the newspaper archives). Indeed, The Big Bird Prophecies does not look quite so intriguing from a marketing standpoint. “Indrid Cold” would make a great band name or alias for an ace computer-hacker/gamer; don’t even tell me how many others have thought of that already.

Charles Cassady Jr. – MOVIES and MANIA

Contemporary reviews:

“By the time The Mothman Prophecies gets to its literally earth-shaking climax after Mr Pellington realizes that one of his red herrings has to produce flesh — that is, actually appear — you may giggle. It’s a disaster-film climax that indirectly replicates the emotional peak of An Officer and a Gentleman, demanding that Mr Gere shake off his self-absorption and see the bigger picture. To the surprise of absolutely no one, he does.” The New York Times

“The director is Mark Pellington (Arlington Road), whose command of camera, pacing and the overall effect is so good, it deserves a better screenplay. The Mothman is singularly ineffective as a threat because it is only vaguely glimpsed, has no nature we can understand, doesn’t operate under rules that the story can focus on, and seems to be involved in space-time shifts far beyond its presumed focus.” Roger Ebert

[Mark Pellington]  ” …sets the film in the present and refuses to let us see the Mothman, in the name of plumbing psychological depths that you just don’t get in creature features. Too bad. Until the bridge collapse, which is scarily staged, this mumbo-jumbo plays like The X-Files on Prozac.” Rolling Stone

Cast and characters:

Richard Gere … John Klein
David Eigenberg … Ed Fleischman
Bob Tracey … Cyrus Bills
Ron Emanuel … Washington Post Reporter
Debra Messing … Mary Klein
Tom Stoviak … Real Estate Agent
Yvonne Erickson … Doctor McElroy
Scott Nunnally … Orderly
Harris Mackenzie … TV Journalist
Will Patton … Gordon Smallwood
Lucinda Jenney … Denise Smallwood
Laura Linney … Connie Mills
Tom Tully … Motel Manager
Zachary Mott … Otto (as Billy Mott)
Ann McDonough … Lucy Griffin

Filming dates:

24th January 2001 to May 2001

Technical details:

119 minutes
Aspect ratio: 2.35: 1
Audio: DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS


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