Film review: Mothman of Point Pleasant

The Mothman was immortalized in the American consciousness with John Keel’s classic book The Mothman Prophecies, and the tale was re-energized by a 2003 Richard Gere film by the same name.  Centered in the Ohio River town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, it’s one of my all-time favorite weird tales (I gave a quick-and-dirty overview of the Mothman furor here).

Now we have a new documentary on the Mothman phenomenon, including all the attendant high-strangeness hijinks, courtesy of  Small Town Monsters.  After the fashion of STM’s three other films, Mothman of Point Pleasant (their first non-bigfoot-related film) presents the story unembellished, straight from the mouths of Mothman witnesses and longtime Point Pleasant residents. There are no cheesy “re-enactments” in Small Town Monsters’ films.  Mothman creatively makes use of animation to illustrate some of the eyewitness accounts, but if you want to see flailing actors feigning horror as a CGI creature closes in, you will have to look elsewhere.  Mothman of Point Pleasant is creepy, educational, tragic, and deeply human.  The film manages to gracefully walk the less-traveled road between monster tale and tragedy, taking the viewer on an unexpected emotional roller-coaster along the way.

The Mothman story is far from straightforward.  Sure, there’s the weird, red-eyed, winged cryptid terrorizing small-town American teens, but perhaps what impressed me most about this film is how all of the story’s disparate elements were represented.  From all the weird “Men in Black” encounters, a Native American curse, possible extraterrestrial meddling, and the involvement of John Keel and local reporter Mary Hyre — it’s all here.

The filmmakers found Mothman witnesses willing to speak on camera about their decades-old experiences; the creepiest may have been the man who described awakening in the wee hours to see the Mothman in his bedroom.

Here is the peculiar strength of the Small Town Monsters films:  their treatment of the human element.  Seeing these people on camera, it becomes nearly impossible to dismiss such phenomena as “myths” or “urban legends.”  Real people are affected — often permanently and profoundly — by these events.  How would you feel if Mothman were standing at the foot of your bed at 3 a.m.?  Not too chipper, I reckon.

The Mothman story, of course, culminates in the tragedy of the Silver Bridge collapse.  The old bridge spanning the Ohio River collapsed without warning on December 15, 1967, sending dozens of cars plunging into the frigid current.  Forty-six lives were lost that day, and nobody in Point Pleasant was unaffected.  The bridge collapse is heartbreakingly chronicled in the film with interviews played over vintage footage from the disaster.

Was the collapse related to the Mothman?  Nobody knows, and this film avoids making the connection.  Nevertheless, after the disaster, Mothman sightings pretty much ended.

Of all Small Town Monsters’ films to date, this one succeeds the most at the “small town” angle.  It’s a biography of the town equally — if not even more — as it is of the monster.  The healing process after the weird events and devastation of fifty years ago has not been easy for Point Pleasant; for better or worse, the town will always remain in the Mothman’s shadow.  The townspeople have learned to live with and even embrace the Mothman’s legacy, with a Mothman Museum and a popular annual Mothman Festival.  But their story — like the film — is undeniably sad and haunting.





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