I really tried to go with this attempt at a creepy thriller, but found it impossible to be either creeped or thrilled.
Richard Gere stars as John Klein, a star Washington Post political reporter who thinks his life is going just right when, following a car accident, he finds out that his wife (radiant Debra Messing) has a rare brain tumor. After her death, he sees some odd, angel-like drawings that she made in the hospital.
Two years later, he suddenly finds himself in the midst of all kinds of nutty stuff, mostly in a small town in West Virginia on the Ohio River. For one thing, he ends up in the town even though it was 400 miles from where he was driving and there is no way he could have covered that much road in 90 minutes. For another, when his car fails and he goes to a nearby house to ask for help, the man in the house (Will Patton) holds him at gunpoint, saying that John has been there three nights in a row.
A skeptical policewoman named Connie (Laura Linney) tells John of the odd happennings in town, including sightings of a winged creature with red eyes who looks sort of like the drawings John’s wife did. So John tells the Post he is working on a story and settles in at the local hotel to investigate.
After that, it is all spooky noises and creepy camera angles. Director Mark Pellington, whose “Arlington Road” had the scariest conclusion of any movie released in the 1990’s, knows how to handle suspense and when to throw in some “boo!”-ish surprises. But the happenings themselves are so un-compelling that it hardly seems worthwhile. Maybe it is because they decided to be true to whatever really happened (though they had no problem moving the time of the story up more than 30 years to take placein the present). But even the Mothman at his most ominous just didn’t seem that scary to me. The spookiest thing he does is call John on the phone and tell him that he hid his watch in his shoe and he misses his wife. And the best officer Connie can do when all this happens is wail, “I hate this!”
Another problem is the way that, after all that business with having voiceprints done on the Mothman’s recordings and having the sightings substantiated by many different people, the movie hedges its bets at the end by telling us that it all might be a post-traumatic manifestation of John’s grief over losing his wife or guilt over thinking about letting her go so that he can move on. It’s possible that both are true — that it was the grief that made John available to otherworldly messages and that he decides to walk away from it. But that still leaves us with a big “so what?”
Parents should know that, though it is not very graphic or gory, the movie is a psychological thriller that may be deeply upsetting to some people. There is a car crash and a tragic accident with many deaths. Another death could be suicide. There is a brief non-graphic sexual situation, and brief strong language.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Sixth Sense, Poltergeist, and Flatliners. And they might like to keep an eye out for a documentary about the strange happenings in Point Pleasant, Special Investigations: Mothman.