The Mothman Prophecies

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As movies with supernatural themes go, “The Mothman Prophecies” is all over the place. There are unexplained occurrences, strange visions, and prophetic hallucinations — all of which usually get their own movies, without being forced to share space with other phenomena.

People who are dead make phone calls, and townspeople encounter actual physical beings — again, a contradiction in movie terms. Usually, there is either an actual monster, or it’s in people’s heads, but not both.

This doesn’t hurt “The Mothman Prophecies,” exactly, but it doesn’t help, either. Were it not for director Mark Pellington’s talent for eerie visuals and creepy sound effects, you’d probably notice that the film is almost devoid of focus.

What is scaring these people? Is it real or not? What does it want? Most suspense thrillers answer these questions, in one way or another, but this one emphasizes its “based on actual events” origin and leaves many things unexplained. As far as we can tell, the thing — whatever it is — just wants to mess with our heads. And so does the movie.

Fortunately, it does a good job of it. You may not care about the unresolved issues, because the film gives you such a good case of the heebie-jeebies.

Richard Gere, as good-naturedly wooden as ever, is a Washington Post reporter named John Klein. His wife (Debra Messing) dies early in the film of a brain tumor, but not before seeing a couple weird things. Two years later, John mysteriously finds himself in Point Pleasant, W.V., where reports of the same kind of weird visions abound.

The local cop, Connie (Laura Linney), is overwhelmed at being 1) a police officer and 2) everyone’s friend. She’s heard all the stories, and they’re freaking her out. Local unstable nut Gordon (Will Patton) reports a voice in his bathroom sink telling him, “Ninety-nine will die,” the night before a plane crash kills 99 people.

John is riding down the supernatural highway, too. One of the film’s more intense moments has him on the telephone with someone purporting to be the monster (or whatever), reading his mind and freaking him out. The monster (or whatever) even has a name, which conjures images of the bat-like creature people have reported seeing, standing at a pay-phone, playing psychic to a newspaper reporter.

On the screen, it doesn’t play out nearly as silly as it sounds on paper. Gere is strong in the lead role, Laura Linney has the right blend of terror and bemusement, and director Pellington knows how to put on the scares. Quick cuts and odd camera angles help the film drip with atmosphere, even if the story itself barely holds water.

B (; PG-13, one harsh profanity, some mild sexuality,.)

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