Horror movies have made many stories around supernatural creatures that torment the imagination. The supernatural genre has a large number of successful films, one of which is Mothman’s Prophecies. The 2002 film directed by Mark Pellington had mixed reviews upon release, but ultimately became a cult classic. The Supernatural Mystery only received a 52% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but 86% of Google users liked the film. This movie was appreciated because of the true legend that spawned the terrifying creature, the suspense and the unsettling atmosphere that left the audience chilled to the bone.
The thriller follows the story of columnist John Klein, played by Richard Gere, who loses his wife after having a vision of a large dark creature in flight. Two years after his death, John finds himself in Point Pleasant, Virginia, after getting lost on his way to a potential story. When his car breaks down and he goes to a house to ask for help, he is detained when the owner claims this is the third night in a row that John has asked for help. While talking to the locals, he discovers many strange occurrences, including several people seeing a large, red-eyed, moth-like humanoid. The officer who detained him tells her of a vision she has with an ominous message; they must understand what the creature is telling them.
The real legend of the man-mother
The film was loosely based on a book of the same name, written by John A. Keel. The book is a collection of investigations Keel made of sightings of the large winged creature nicknamed the Mothman. The sightings were primarily in the Point Pleasant, Virginia area in 1966 and 1967. Ultimately, he insinuated that the sightings were related to the December 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River. While the book was met with skeptical reviews and attacks on Keel’s character, it did not change the creature’s accounts.
Point Pleasant residents are still seeing the Mothman lately. There was even a photo that was taken in 2016 by a man who had recently moved to the area. The locals wholeheartedly believe that the creature is real, although its intentions are not absolutely clear.
The terrifying creature
The film takes its creature design from testimonials. The creature is said to have a large size, even taller than an average man. It has also been seen with a wingspan of around ten feet. Its eyes glow red and it is often seen high up or in flight. The film stays true to the basic description, while adding more moth-like details like furry texture. The film did a good job of leaving most of the details to the imagination, using quick cuts and darkened blurs with red-eye. The film was reserved by showing the creature, and chose to hide it in moving images. Having an ominous creature hiding in plain sight and stalking the characters was a terrifying element.
The race against the unknown
The film was written to be more of a suspenseful mystery than a creature feature. Based on John Keel’s theory, linking the Mothman sightings to the 1967 bridge collapse, the film followed the chronicler and the policeman as they tried to decode the strange messages the creature transmitted during its sightings. . He gave a prophecy as a message of “99 will die” to a local. They discover that a plane has crashed in Denver, killing 99 passengers on board. This gives the characters a run with life or death consequences of the officer’s message: “wake up, number 37”.
While trying to stop a fatal tragedy, the characters are unsure whether the lurking supernatural entity is friend or foe. The menacing air surrounding the creature’s presence is almost suffocating, but added to the disaster to come, the characters are thrown into a race with missing variables. They have no way of knowing when or where the disaster will occur. The only clue they have is that the officer will be involved with 36 other victims. This brings to life an atmosphere of tension and suspense, which the audience can feel hanging over the characters.
The destabilizing atmosphere
While the story makes audiences feel uncomfortable enough, the look of the film also has a heavy, dark vibe. It was almost like the whole movie was weighted down, making everyone feel like they were being swallowed up by the abyss at all times. The restrained special effects also reminded audiences that this is all taking place in a very real location, not a fictional fantasy world. It was like a sign that it could happen to anyone in the audience, at any time.
Mothman’s Prophecies isn’t your typical horror movie that uses creepy jumps or a normal villain. Instead, it’s a realism-based horror story. Some reviews of the film have upped the tempo and that the story asks more questions rather than answers them. While that might be frustrating to some, that was part of the beauty of this movie. The actual Mothman investigation left many questions unanswered. Although Keel has done his best to give a possible explanation for the sightings, it still raises questions about what the creature is and why it would give warnings. The pace of the film expressed the helplessness that the characters experienced, as they watched the clock tick by. The agonizing feeling of knowing that lives are at stake if they fail is conveyed by the slower pace.
Taking the story of a “real” supernatural creature and making it a crime movie was a brilliant choice. Conveying John Keel’s book investigation into a real-time mystery was a great method of storytelling that breathed new life into the story, rather than a rigid adaptation. Then, the dark visual style choices and creepy pacing were the perfect approach to bring the audience into the nerve-wracking atmosphere. This makes Mothman’s Prophecies a scary movie that’s very different from what was being made throughout the 2000s, and why it still gives audiences chills 20 years later.