“What’s in my hand?”
“Chap … Stick.”
It’s a difficult place, the hanging between what is known to be real and what is possible (however unlikely) but not yet known. That’s exactly where Mark Pellington drops John Klein (Richard Gere) in the 2002 adaptation of John A. Keel‘s novel The Mothman Prophecies.
Based on the actual collapse of the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, West Virginia and the mysterious events leading up to it, The Mothman Prophecies opens two years prior. Christmas Eve. A couple, John and Mary Klein (Debra Messing) have been house hunting. It’s cold, snowing. Finally having found what they believe to be their dream house, the couple gets in their car and heads home. Seeing something, someone, standing in the middle of the road, Mary loses control of the car, crashing it and hitting her head.
Later, in the hospital, she asks John if he saw it too. When he admits he didn’t, she says something must be wrong with her. Mary’s CAT scan shows an inoperable brain tumor, to which, she ultimately succumbs. After her death, an orderly reveals Mary had been drawing “angels”.
Two years pass. John, who has neither fully dealt with or recovered from Mary’s death, finds himself in West Virginia, five hours off course from his intended destination. His car has broken down in Point Pleasant. He makes his way to a nearby house where the resident, Gordon (Will Patton), says he’s been expecting him. That he’s seen him the last several nights. That it’s always the same. The local police are called to help sort the matter and officer Connie Mills (Laura Linney) arrives on the scene.
The situation diffused, Connie offers to take John into town. She reveals along the way that things in the town have been strange. People have been seeing things, hearing things. She shows him an image, a drawing, of a winged creature. It’s startlingly similar to the images John’s wife had been drawing before her death. Intrigued, John decides to spend some time in Point Pleasant just poking around. He’s a reporter, after all.
He hears tales of a being, maybe 8 feet tall, with red eyes. It howls. It makes phone calls. It says things that no one can understand. Even Gordon begins seeing him. Soon, the creature, who refers to himself as Indrid Cold, is imparting information to Gordon. Information that Gordon can neither interpret, understand, or unravel into anything of use.
As John delves deeper into the mystery surrounding the man/creature calling himself Indrid Cold, he slowly begins to lose his grip on reality. Until, finally, the world comes crashing down around him in a terrifyingly horrific finale.
Not a fan of any movie claiming to be based on true events, I always watch The Mothman Prophecies through a very skeptical, Dana Scully-esque lens. It’s true I’ve seen The Mothman Prophecies several times. And, like most horror films, I always think this time the experience will have degraded in some way. But, every time I watch The Mothman Prophecies, I feel those hairs on the back of my neck standing up when Indrid Cold says “Chap … Stick.” There’s just something about it. It’s in my head. Literally. That’s just one component of what makes The Mothman Prophecies film an all-around decent psychological thriller.
It’s difficult to call The Mothman Prophecies a horror film, even though the film shares moments of tension and terror. There are aspects of the film that I find monumentally anxiety-raising. Am I scared? Yes, but it’s all in my head. Well, maybe our head. I can’t be the only person who’s afraid of things watching me when I’m unaware, and of being in a car when a bridge collapses.
Director Mark Pellington’s vision of The Mothman Prophecies is glossy, featuring beautifully meandering transitions. As the film progresses, the moments the characters spend in the light, in the waking hours, becomes less and less until the movie is one long, dark, sleepless night. Until the audience, right alongside the characters, can no longer tell what’s real and what’s imagined. There are themes of isolation and loneliness throughout the film that lend themselves to what are perhaps the most terrifying moments in the film. After all, what’s scarier than red-eyed, future-seeing, 8 foot tall beings watching you when you’re alone … when you don’t know they’re watching you, when you only have the slightest whisper of a feeling something is not quite right, yet, not quite wrong …?
Nothing. Okay? Nothing is scarier than that.
Excuse me for a moment … okay, I’m back. I just had to close the drapes covering the windows in my office. It’s getting dark outside and well, let’s just say I’m home alone.
Look, as far as horror films go, you could do a lot worse (and I know, and you know, you have) if you’re looking to find a good scary movie to watch. I will warn you that, as with any successful psychological horror film, there’s a reason people went to see The Mothman Prophecies. It, and films like it, have a way of getting inside your head. You’ll be thinking about it and not know it until you catch yourself looking over your shoulder, the hairs on the back of your neck standing up. Like mine are … now.
Bottom line: the pacing is slow at times, but, ultimately, moments like the first interaction between John and Indrid Cold make up for it. And [SPOLIER ALERT] it’s just a movie.
Wiki facts: The Mothman Prophecies
Rotten or Fresh? 56%
How did it do at the Box Office?
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Watch or Buy The Mothman Prophecies on Amazon
Read the book The Mothman Prophecies by John A. Keel