the mothman prophecies(2002)
director: mark pellington
richard gere, laura linney, will patton, debra messing

. If you wanted to be cynical, you could say that the statement that The Mothman Prophecies is “based on true events” is somewhere along the lines of saying that reality tv shows like "Survivor" are “based on real life”.

The historical events upon which the film is based -- centered on the collapse of a bridge in a small town in West Virginia -- apparently happened. For the purposes of the movie, the setting has been moved up from the late Sixties to the present, a protagonist invented and a love story injected. As for the spooky, supernatural context surrounding the collapse of the Silver Bridge on a busy day before Christmas -- which included a huge, winged man-like creature that haunted the town on the days before the bridge collapsed, then disappeared -- well, let’s say there’s a lot of room for interpretation, and that director Mark Pellington makes the most of that room.

Richard Gere stars as a Washington journalist who loses his wife in a car accident which she swore was caused by the moth-like apparition. Two years later, still mourning her loss, Gere finds himself lost on a side road near a small town that’s been haunted by some unexplained phenomenon. He meets Gordon (Will Patton), a spooked local who swears that Gere has showed up at his house at the same time for three nights running. A local sheriff, played by Laura Linney, tells him that the town has been plagued by ghostly phone calls with no origin, and sightings of the moth-man. 

Strangest of all, Gere doesn’t know how he got to Point Pleasant, as a drive that should have taken most of a night gets him there in just over an hour. He becomes obsessed with the town, and with the sightings. When his wife starts appearing unexpectedly, we know the hook is in.

The Mothman Prophecies should have been unbearably corny, the movie version of supermarket tabloids and mass-market paperback ghost stories. In the hands of director Pellington, however, it’s a skillfully forboding and compellingly strange tale. The mothman is never actually seen, and the siege of the town by warnings from “other beings” is just vague enough to leave the viewers skepticism untouched while drawing you into a gorgeously shot spooky story.

Only when an investigator -- Alan Bates playing the only character based vaguely on a real person -- who’s been haunted by the mothman for years tries to explain the haunting does it all start to seem like silly urban myth. No matter, since Pellington rushes Gere back to the haunted town and the mechanical but nevertheless gripping finale at the bridge, just in time to keep our disbelief happily juggled aloft.