The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

I’ve been thinking about that song “Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe” by Whale a lot. The song is pretty crazy, best described as a dancy punky ditty about, well, who the fuck knows what it’s about. The video is even stranger, highlighted by lead singer Cia Berg cavorting about with red frizzy hair and braces. The whole album is pretty decent, with Tricky producing a lot of it.

I’m telling you that so I can tell you that the video for the song won the first MTV Europe award for Best Video. And it’s director, Mark Pellington, was the person who helped create today’s film (he also directed the video for Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” and the movie Arlington Road).

As a Pittsburgher, this movie is somewhat important, as it was filmed here and in nearby Kittanning, PA. Which is somewhat humorous, as Point Pleasant, WV isn’t far at all. They could have just filmed it there. There’s a mothman statue, after all.

A lot of the script was changed, as this movie is based on the work of John Keel, the paranormal researcher who wrote the book The Mothman Prophecies. Pellington rejected numerous screenplays that were literal takes on Keel’s work, instead wanting to explore the psychological damage that UFO witnesses endure.  In the book, Keel went into deepest, darkest West Virginia to interview folks who had seen the huge winged beast called the mothman. At the same time, he began receiving strange phone calls, reports of mutilated pets, visits from men in black (in fact, Keel coined the term!) and it all ends with the collapse of the Silver Bridge across the Ohio River.

Whereas the movie posits that the collapse was never solved, experts determined that an eye-bar in the suspension chain caused its failure. And in reality, 46 people died, not 36.

The movie is therefore fictionalized, sharing the story of Washington Post columnist John Klein (Richard Gere) and his wife Mary (Debra Messing) being involved in a car wreck that leads to her dying of a brain tumor. Before she passes, he finds a notebook filled with pictures of a strange beast.

Between time distortions and loops, strange phone calls, visitations from his dead wife and premonitions, this film does a good job of conveying the terror and confusion that the paranormal can unleash.

My theory has always been that nuclear waste near Point Pleasant unleashed holes in the time/space continuum and the mothman, a fifth-dimensional creature,  was unleashed on our 3D space — bringing weirdness in its wake.

There’s a great shot at the end of this film, where the cars drift to the bottom of the river and holiday gifts float and headlights stretch out into nothing. It’s probably the eeriest scene I’ve seen in awhile. According to IMDB, Gene Warren III and five other model-makers, plus two production assistants, spent three full months to fabricate every piece of the bridge set from scratch. He estimates 20,000 individual pieces of steel went into the construction, in order for the ultra-photo-realistic 1/6th scale model suspension bridge to support all the model vehicles and ultimately collapse like a full-scale steel bridge into the water. It really shows — this practical effect looks perfect.

I usually don’t enjoy big budget films, much less ones that take so many liberties with their source material, but this one always wins me over. It’s worth a watch.

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