OCTOBER 28, 2011
One of the better early 00s horror films is The Mothman Prophecies, thanks to a better than usual cast (Richard Gere, Will Patton, etc) and a rare “based on a true story” claim that wasn’t bullshit (plus the real story was quite fascinating to me – I even read the book instead of just buying it and never getting around to it). So I had high-ish hopes for Mothman, another movie about the tale courtesy of Sheldon Wilson, who I consider an under-appreciated filmmaker with a talent for making this sort of Syfy stuff actually fun and watchable; Christ, even his Screamers 2 was pretty good.
But for whatever reason they dropped the whole “The Mothman is a premonition of danger” aspect of the story and made it a monster movie version of I Know What You Did Last Summer or whatever, where an accidental death is covered up and then 10 years later our fractured group of friends starts getting picked off one by one. But this being a Syfy movie, it’s not a whodunit mystery; it’s a CGI monster that has a tendency to appear just before a commercial break. At first I thought maybe the “Mothman” name was just a coincidence, but they even go out of their way to tie their story into the real one, explaining that the bridge collapse in 1967 (the one folks now believe that the Mothman was trying to warn them about) was the result of the revenge-seeking Mothman attacking some of his prey while they were on the bridge, resulting in the “collateral damage” death of everyone else.
We see this and two other flashback scenes, all told to our heroes by Frank, a Mothman survivor who gouged out his own eyes in order to keep the Mothman off his back. I like that they give some context for the monster that the town has adapted as a mascot of sorts (like Roswell with aliens), but I assume that these scenes were included not to give the plot some depth, but merely to provide a little more action to keep folks from changing the channel. Since he’s only after the 7 friends, the filmmakers can’t exactly make like Sharktopus and just cut to some poor anonymous bastard being eaten whenever the movie starts to get a little slow. Thus, it’s even odder that one of the deaths is off-screen; though at least Wilson builds a nice moment out of it. Someone is frantically trying to reach said victim, and we see her vibrating cell phone buzz closer and closer to the edge of a bureau. So you think that the phone will fall and break and she’ll never get the warning, but as the phone falls down we see that she’s already dead, lying on the floor next to where it landed. Cool little bit.
In fact it’s not that bad for the most part; even with the rather generic “some secrets don’t stay buried” formula, there’s a lot to appreciate in comparison to the usual Syfy fare. The acting is pretty good across the board, and it’s shot in Louisiana instead of Canada or Romania, so there’s a little bit of flavor to the setting that you don’t usually get (since those other movies try so hard to pass off their foreign locales as North American). And the plot means that it can’t open with a random monster attack like usual, so there’s like 25 minutes before the first Mothman sighting – it’s almost kind of classy!
Most shockingly – the FX are pretty good. The design of the Mothman himself is kind of goofy anyway, so you can’t really fault them for that, but one of this particular version’s “rules” is that the Mothman comes from reflections, so most of the time you see him he’s in a mirror or the aluminum siding of a trailer, and thus the inherent “faded” look of low budget CGI creations actually fits. And even when he ventures into the real world he looks decent compared to the Goblins and Lake Placid 2s of the world. It’s only in the final reel that he starts to resemble a typical Syfy creation (i.e. shitty), but by then I was more bothered by something else.
Since they wipe out most of the “conspirators” early on and rightfully assume no one wants to watch the last two survivors driving around trying to stay away from Mothman for the rest of the movie, suddenly they pull a twist revolving around Frank the old man, and then make things worse by setting Mothman loose at a carnival (Wilson must not have gotten this sort of thing out of his system after Carny), where he no longer follows his own rules. He doesn’t need reflections, he attacks or kills a couple of people at random, etc. It’s an OK enough sequence on its own merits, but it is so far removed from both the tone and even concept of the rest of the movie, it feels like the result of Syfy demanding a more typical “monster gone amok in public” finale, or a screenwriter realizing he had nothing left of his own storyline after 60 pages and thus started tossing in whatever came to his head in order to pad the page count to a more acceptable 90 or so.
I was also puzzled by the little CGI moths that appear from time to time, because it appeared that the actors weren’t reacting to them. At one point heroine Jewel Staite (Kaylee!) is going through the “Hero looks at news clippings and stuff about the legend of the villain” scene, and these little moths start swarming about. However, she doesn’t seem to see them even as they fly around at her 10 o’clock, and even when they land on the book she’s reading, there’s a delay in her reaction, which seems to be more of a response to what she saw in the book, not the moth. It’s like they decided to add them in post after the scene had been shot, just to get the stoned Syfy viewing audience something else to look or laugh at.
Oh and the final minute is so stupid I don’t even want to talk about it. If you’re watching this, just shut it off as soon as the carnival sequence ends. Trust me.
So in some areas it’s an improvement on their usual monster movie fare, but the needless ignorance of the much more interesting real story (and the fact that I know Wilson can do better) left me a little disappointed, and the 3rd act is just a mess no matter how you look at it. Unless you’re some sort of Mothman completionist, just stick with the Gere one. CHAPSTICK!
What say you?