"The Mothman Prophecies" is an attempt to bring subtle, intelligent horror to the screen, similar to (at least early episodes of) the "X-Files", which is certainly welcome. The film is even "based upon true events", which were chronicled in John A. Keel's non-fiction book. Directed by Mark Pellington, the film should work better than it does overall; there is marvelous cinematography, interesting visuals, solid performances and generally good writing.
Richard Gere stars as Washington Post reporter John Klein, who, as the story begins, is wrapping up a house purchase with wife Mary (Debra Messing of "Will and Grace"). They decide to go out driving and, as they're headed down a suburban street, Mary swerves to avoid what looked like a giant, winged creature. She's diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer in the hospital, but before she passes on, she asks, "you did see it, didn't you?". He didn't, but he finds a notebook filled with drawings of it.
Time passes and Klein is headed down somewhere one night for an interview. He reaches a point where he's not quite sure where he is then, convieniently, his car stalls. When he reaches the nearest local house, he's not given a particularly warm greeting: the homeowner (Will Patton) is convinced that Klein has been knocking on his door for the past few nights. He finally finds out where he is: Point Pleasant, West Virginia - hundreds of miles in the wrong direction and only a little while after he left.
Soon after, the local sheriff (Laura Linney) informs him that strange things have been afoot in the town: phone calls with either strange sounds or voices, visions of a "moth-like" creature - the same creature that Mary said that she saw that night. It's up to Klein to find out what the voices mean and what or who the creature really is. Interesting so far, but Pellington's main problem and positive choice are one and the same: he doesn't try for agressive scares similar to a lot of other recent movies. Yet, there's a point - about 45 minutes in - that my mind started to wander. You know the feeling; thoughts of dinner, work that needs to be done, how cold it is out. There's simply not enough happening in the film's first hour; for every minor effective moment, there's a considerable stretch of near-emptiness that drains what tension had built up.
After getting close to the point of giving up, the film finally gets going. Scares come at a more consistent pace and there are a few inspired thrills that are quite enjoyable. The performances aren't bad at all, either. Gere is subtle, but intense and effective at the right moments. He also works wonderfully with his "Primal Fear" co-star Linney, who also turns in a strong (and funny, during one scene) performance. Even Debra Messing, previously well-known for her comedic skills, is solid in her small part.
Overall though, there's still something somewhat unsatisfying about the picture. The scares are good and occasionally quite good. While I never jumped out of my seat personally, a girl down the way nearly jumped into the next row. Again, the performances are great and the cinematography and general atmosphere are noteworthy. The second half really gets going quite well; it's just that first hour of the film that I can't get past. It's far too slow and personally, I almost lost interest completely. Some may find it worthwhile as a matinee, but the film will probably do best as a rental.