Saturday, May 04, 2013

Another Mothman: Mothman (2010)

Connor Fox and Jewel Staite in a scene from the 2010 SyFy original movie Mothman. Not pictured: Mothman
Like the 2002 Richard Gere vehicle The Mothman Prophecies, this 2010 made-for-cable TV horror movie plays very fast and very loose with the real story of West Virginia monster made famous during a 1966-67 flaps o—or at least "real" as presented in John Keel's ostensibly non-fiction book the Gere film is named after.

Despite the fact that it's named after the monster rather than the Keel book, and that it doesn't put forth even an extremely truncated and bowdlerized version of Keel's theory of "ultraterrestrials," Mothman is in many ways a lot more accurate and true to the source material.

In modern-day Point Pleasant, WV—well, modern-day as in the year 2000—a group of attractive graduating high school seniors lead by actress Jewel Staite (from popular nerd show/cause Firefly) are out camping by a river and stuck babysitting one of their number's younger brothers. At one point, they try to spook him by telling him the story of the Mothman, who here is "buried under the incinerators at the old mill," rather than making his home in the spookier, more atmospheric "igloos," the abandoned TNT storage facilities he supposedly haunted in real life (The film only had a budget of $2 million, which seemed to dictate a lot of creative choices). He can escape his grave via the river, one of the older kids tells the younger, and, when he defiantly says he's not afraid, they all go swimming, and the older kids take turns pulling him underwater.

He accidentally drowns to death, and the kids all make a I Know What You Did Last Summer-style pledge of secrecy. Ten years later, Staite's character, who was the most resistant to the cover-up, has moved to Washington D.C. to become a reporter and try to forget about her past, but her editor sends her back home to cover the tenth annual Mothman festival, which is a totally real thing (And a thing I find pretty fascinating, particularly if the events described by those who saw Mothman during the original flap were really true and those witnesses, some of whom are still alive today, were genuinely traumatized by it. Seeing Mothman cosplay during a small-town festival has gotta be pretty damn weird to those folks, right?).

The night she arrives just so happens to be the night that her former friends all gather to drink a toast to the memory of the poor dead kid brother, and she reluctantly reunites with them for the occasion, starting off a horrifying chain of events in which the titular monster starts picking them off, one by one.

Staite's character and the handsomest and unmarried of her former friends (Connor Fox) must unravel the mystery of the Mothman and how to escape him before he kills his way to them (Unfortunately, the lovely Jessica Erin Sylvia, "aged" ten years by putting on a pair of fetching glasses, doesn't live as long as either of 'em). They get most of their intel from Jerry Leggio's blind old man, who has been studying the Mothman his whole life, and knows his origins, modus operandi and has a few ideas on how to kill him.

As the film is set in the present day, it keeps the real-world history of Mothman in tact (Mothman Prophecies moved the events of the late sixties into the 21st century; Mothma sets new 21st century events 40 years after those events), including the Silver Bridge collapse.

It also keeps one of Mothman's popular possible origins intact—that he was a sort of spirit of vengeance summoned by the horribly wronged and murdered Native American chief Cornstalk, who cursed the land with his dying breath. But in Mothman's telling, Cornstalk seems to start transforming into the Mothman himself, his eyes glowing read, and the white men who were in the process of torturing him finding their bullets were unable to kill him.

So, in the movie's telling, they chop him up and bury the pieces of his body in a mirror-lined coffin. Ever since, the Mothman can only appear through reflective surfaces, like mirrors (Yeah, obviously that doesn't jibe with, like, any sighting from the literature), which he does to avenge wrongs kept secret by conspirators (which you wouldn't think there'd be all that much of in a small rural town in West Virginia). He kills by taking and/or eating the eyes of his victims (another thing unique to the film), and he can only kill someone once he's locked eyes with them, according to the now suspiciously blind man.

The Mothman as mirror-travelling creatures is pretty bizarre, partly because there are whole other horror movies in which mirrors are kinda there thing, partly because it's such a random detail to attach to a story that already has plenty of weird, specific details attached to it (Like, Mothman traveling through electricity or sound or pone lines makes a lot more sense than Mothman traveling through mirrors, you know?). So to is the Mothman-as-avenging-angel-with-a-very-specific-set-of-criteria, but I guess it's one way to make a modern horror movie of the kid-killing variety with Mothman in it.

As for Mothman's appearance, they certainly moth him up quite a bit. There are lots of CGI made-up moths, with red "eye" patterns on their big black wings, fluttering around. And the creature itself is big and black and spindly. It's torso is human, with the black flesh pulled tight around skeletal ribs. It has long, spindly arms and legs, the latter bent in a goat-like, insectoid shape, with almost bird-like feet with two big toes in the front, one in the back.

It seems to have two sets of wings, which are neither leathery like a bat's, nor feathered like a bird's, nor gossamer like an insect's, but made of a net-like, tar-colored material. It's most striking feature is its glowing red eyes and it's head and face. This Mothman does indeed have a head, but it's smallish and set into the shoulders with a small-to-non-existent neck. It has a huge—like, comically large—gaping, always open mouth that looks an awful lot like the mask that the killers in the Scream franchise wear, only it's all black, and the eyes glow special-effect weird.
It's not a great design, really—if they lost the mouth, it'd improve immensely—but it works in that it differs from many other Mothman designs, it's not overly insectoid or moth-like, like a few of the more striking but not based on the record or folklore designs (like famous Frank Frazetta image, or the Point Pleasant statue), and it looks like the sort of creature that could conceivably have inspired the reports of Mothman, had witnesses seen this guy lurking around in the shadows or whizzing through the air in the 1960s.
Many of the events of the film are cliche and rather rote, but it has a few inspired moments—the existence of a particular weapon that can hurt the Mothman is kind of neat (it's a bone knife made of one of the few parts of Chief Cornstalk that didn't transform into the creature), and the scene set on the Silver Bridge, in which the POV points down at a convertible car full of guilty parties that the fast moving black aerial object makes disappear one by one is a pretty great film image.

It's perhaps not as good a film as the not-very-good Mothman Prophecies, but it is a much more standard model and more enjoyable horror film and, as I said, it hews much closer to the "real" Mothman and his story—despite its own out-of-left field innovations—than the feature film.

Oh, here's the cover for the copy of the DVD I found at a library:
I don't understand the DVD cover at all. The figure on the cover is not the Mothman as depicted in the movie, he's not the human villain, he's not the hero or any character in the film. I honestly don't know what the hell that image is supposed to represent, or what it has to do with the film. (I've seen a few more DVD covers online that do better reflect the film itself, however).

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