Friday, March 20, 2009

The Weekly Alternative - The Mothman Prophecies

This weekend Nicolas Cage is once again doing what he doesn't do best -- save the world. I'm sure I'm not the only one who wishes Cage would put his superhero, action star dreams to sleep, permanently. Remember Adaptation? Man, that was a good one -- played to his strengths. So I'm tempted to recommend some forgotten Cage movie like Vampire's Kiss or Bringing Out the Dead. But I'll stick to the themes of Cage's newest would-be blockbuster, Knowing, and recommend a movie dealing with paranormal warnings that is surely far more creepy than Knowing and based on a true story to boot.

The Mothman is a rich subject, probably worthy of an even better movie than The Mothman Prophecies, Mark Pellington's 2002 movie featuring Richard Gere and Laura Linney. An adaptation of the book written on the strange events that occured around a couple around a town in West Virginia over the days leading up to the tragic collapse of a suspension bridge in 1967. The film has it's problems but they're mostly kept to the front end of the picture as it uses some less than inspired techinques to get the story moving. Richard Gere's wife dies after a car crash and he finds that she's been making some drawings of a mothman type character. A couple years later he's trying to drive to Richmond but instead he find himself mysteriously deposited in Point Pleasant, West Virginia -- the real town that experienced the mothman sitings and the bridge colapse. The film then takes palce in the days leading up to that bridge collapse and Gere and the town sherrif, played by Laura Linney, work as our Skully and Mulder as we start meeting with the other people who've had run-ins with the Mothman and tryt to crack the mystery.

While the film is clumsy getting itself going in the early on, once we're in Point Pleasant and we're actually dealing with the real events that occured prior to the bridge collapse, the movie becomes a subtle (for this kind of film) and eerie look at the possibility of actual harbingers of doom manifesting themselves. Gere and Linney certainly add some credibility to this story and one of the reasons why this movie has stuck with me is how well and respectfully it treats this material. This isn't turned into an excuse to wow audiences with some whiz-bang special effects. It keeps its focus on the story and the characters and to its benefit keeps everything in the realm of possibility -- at least in a Fortean sense.

For fans of all things Fortean, this film can be looked at with some frustration as a bit of a wasted opertunity. There have been very few films made that deal with high profile paranormal events in any kind of satisfying way for those of us who enjoy pondering the posibilities of such things. Some of the more fascinating aspects of the Mothman story get bogged down in the Richard Gere character's back story and the end result can lead to more head scratching than to any sense of discovery. But it does get the fundamentals right. You come away with the great sense of dread that permeates every frame and if you do leave scratching your head, wondering what the Mothman is all about, like I did, and start researching the subject, is a testament to its effectiveness. Asside from some of the storytelling mess, Mark Pellington does a great job with the material. The elemental creepiness of the Mothman and the conspiracy at large in this film is handled with a realness that could easily have been turned into something like, oh I don't know, some sort of Nicolas Cage vehicle. So if you're in the mood for some real Knowing, I would recommend taking a look at how it might have went down 40 years ago in West Virginia and watch The Mothman Prophecies. But if you just want to see 'spolsions and more futile attempts at keeping a hairline under control, well then you could probably do worse than Knowing. Hell, it looks a whole lot better than that Bangok Dangerous mess.

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