Monday, September 20, 2010

Maggie 2010: Horror Season Begins!

#103. The Mothman Prophecies

Every now and then a mainstream horror film will tackle grief in a coherent, thought-provoking manner. The film will use grief not as a throw-away lead-in to wanton, senseless violence, but as a means of deconstructing the horror genre as a whole.

To my great surprise, The Mothman Prophecies was such a film. Starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney, and directed by Mark Pellington (whose CV hardly champions him for the genre), I didn't expect this based-on-"true"-events number about supernatural sightings in small-town America to leave any impression on me at all.

Take, for instance, the blatant telegraphing in the opening act -- Gere's character, John Klein, building a future with his lovely wife on the back of a newly-acquired home, only to have a car accident shatter all their dreams, and leave him with a mystery viewers just know will play a central role in events thereafter. Pretty standard stuff, as far as horror/thrillers go, establishing the film's imagery and forging a sympathetic bond between viewer and protagonist.

Nonetheless, The Mothman Prophecies executes this convention well, and even some pretty heavy-handed camerawork near the beginning resolves itself into intelligent scene transitions. Indeed, one of the strengths of this film is easily the level of ambiguity it allows to exist in the details -- even if the conventionality of the form requires the ending to be more blatant, pat, and absolute than viewers might prefer.

But the real strength of the film comes from the director's understanding of why grief works so well as a foundation for horror. In John Klein we see a man who has lost everything that matters--or so he thinks. The events of this film will teach him what remains--and in that remainder, what else can still be lost. Far from being ham-fisted, this message is conveyed gradually, respectfully, and with some interesting twists and turns along the way. Whatever the supernatural agent in The Mothman Prophecies is, whatever greater power it draws upon, in the end the real agency always lies with the humans, not the monsters: the choices we make, and what we can or cannot bring ourselves to take from tragedy, when it strikes.

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