Documentary Review: “The Mothman Legacy” lays out the claims, but doesn’t make much of a case

“The Mothman Legacy” is a soberly straightforward account of the 1960s Point Pleasant, West Virginia supernatural “creature” that spawned books and movies, most famously, “The Mothman Prophecies,” a 2002 feature which starred Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Debra Messing and Will Patton.

Writer-director Seth Breedlove takes the utterly credulous tack in tackling this phenomenon, hearing out eyewitness accounts, throwing a few special effects at the screen, as well as lots of sketchings and lurid watercolors depicting what this “man-sized insect” or “bird man” (the first descriptions) might look like, laying out a timeline of alleged sightings and tying the creature’s arrival (not limited to West Virginia) to assorted disasters.

Is the Mothman a harbinger of doom? The Silver Bridge collapse killed over 60 people in Point Pleasant just after the first reported sightings of the creature in the mid-60s. A TWA Jet crash (illustrated with a still photograph of a TWA Lockheed propeller plane) followed one person’s sighting.

Breedlove has interview subjects tie the Mothman to Celtic folklore and the Scots-Irish who settled that part of the world, and documents some of the ways Point Pleasant has exploited its notoriety — a statue in town, a museum of Mothman lore, an annual festival. It’s an Appalachian Roswell.

But his film fails to do even the most basic things to lend it credibility. He’s not going for a “mockumentary” here, and he avoids having even the barest hint of fun with this whole dying-town-exploits-supernatural-hook for tourism thing.

People talk about the author of the book that popularized the Mothman and his “prophecies,” John Keel. But there are no extant TV or audio interviews of him included in the film.

The endless recreations and re-imaginings of a creature that some speculated might be a sandhill crane or large screech owl, mistaken for something larger in the dark, don’t hide the fact that there’s no “bigfoot walk” footage, no still photos even. The faked Mothman on a water tower, etc. shots aren’t identified as “recreations” either.

So Breedlove isn’t playing straight with the viewer, not in the least.

We visit an actual spot or two where a sighting occurred, but those visits are aren’t spooky, and even the creepy “what I saw on the road” or “heard, like it had fallen from helicopter” on the roof anecdotes fail to chill.

The documentary leans most heavily on museum curator Jeff Wamsley, a poster child for “supernatural fanboy over 50” and his daughter, Ashley. He set up a website, shortly after “The Blair Witch Project” came out, and two years before the first “Mothman” movie. No mention is made of how the two are related — the wholly “faked” event filmed and marketed online, paving the way for the “Mothman” following a similar path to the screen.

The screenwriter Richard Hatem is here, and while it’s asking too much to try and talk one of the film’s stars, I wonder if they even tried. Hell, there’s not even a clip from the movie. Any of the movies.

For the dry and straightforward approach to pay off and “sell” this extraordinary claim to viewers, the gullible and the skeptical, there have to be “real” gotchas, old interviews (surely some of these were taped) and not just a narrator, boring us to death with the function of “stories” within human culture, and mentioning “Jeff re-interviewed many of the eyewitnesses.” No tape of those “interviews” either?

Lacking that “original” source material (a few newspaper clippings don’t suffice), this “Legacy” is impossible to accept as a journalistic documentary” and not entertaining enough to pass for “mockumentary.”

MPAA Rating: unrated

Cast: Jeff Wamsley, Ashley Wamsley, narrated by Lyle Blackburn

Written and directed by Seth Breedlove. A 1091 release.

Running time: 1:17

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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