The Mothman Legacy


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Mothman Legacy
"Whilst Breedlove's documentary is somewhat credulous in its approach to the stories, it's very good at capturing the atmosphere of this place."

In 2017, documentarian Seth Breedlove set out to explore the events of November 1966, when four young people in a remote part of West Virginia claimed to have seen a strange creature they described as a 'man sized bird' with glowing red eyes. This was the first report of what would become known as the Mothman, and a slew of others followed. Was this something real? Was it an incidence of mass hypnosis? Was it all faked, or did excitement about the possibility lead people to misinterpret natural phenomena? Nothing has ever been confirmed. In this film, Breedlove revisits the story to look at how the legend of the Mothman has impacted this small community.

Point Pleasant, the settlement around which most of the reported sightings occurred, is a city in US terms, a large village as far as people from most other countries are concerned. It's in a part of the state that was settled early by Europeans and largely ignored by their developing nation thereafter. Descended from Scots and Irish people who were forced off their land and arrived in the New World penniless, its inhabitants have never been taken very seriously by mainstream US culture and have defiantly clung to old superstitions not so very far away in character from the Mothman tales. Whilst Breedlove's documentary is somewhat credulous in its approach to the stories, it's very good at capturing the atmosphere of this place and exploring the way that these inherited influences might have shaped local ideas about what was reported.

Where Breedlove's first film on the subject, The Mothman Of Point Pleasant, was quite tightly focused, this one has a tendency to meander, covering a much larger period of time and concerning itself less with the reality (or otherwise) of the famed creature than with the impact of the stories around it. We get a brief history of some of the better known sightings (viewers may note that the people who reported that first sighting said the creature's eyes glowed red in their car headlights, a simple effect that anyone who has used an old fashioned camera with flash will be familiar with; in these later sightings, the eyes are always reported as glowing red by themselves, in common with those of mythical Celtic creatures like the brollachan). We also look at and the association of the creature with the 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge, a tragedy which claimed the lives of 46 people, and the folk belief that the creature's appearance is a warning of deaths to come (not unlike the cry of Ireland's banshee).

Breedlove examines the influence of John Keel's 1975 book The Mothman prophecies and looks at how the hope of catching sight of the creature led tourists to flock to the area. Even today, it's a big selling point for the town, as the proud owner of the Mothman museum tells us. There isn't much to do in Point Pleasant and the Mothman has given it an identity, making it matter to people in the wider world.

The analytical work here isn't terribly sharp and it often feels as if the film as been compiled from a loose assemblage of parts (like most myths) rather than having any considered structure. Fans of the creature are unlikely to learn anything new. That said, there's plenty to intrigue those with an interest in how myths and legends develop and acquire layers of meaning - a process which, no doubt, the film itself will contribute to. In the end, whether or not there's anything real behind it is moot.

Reviewed on: 19 Oct 2020
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The Mothman Legacy packshot
A documentary exploring the origins of the legend of the Mothman, a creature that reportedly haunted rural West Virginia in the 1960s.

Director: Seth Breedlove

Writer: Seth Breedlove

Year: 2020

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: US


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