Review: Moth (2016)
Recently, I had the opportunity to watch a private screener of Moth, a found footage horror film written by József Gallai and directed by Gergö Elekes and József Gallai. By no means am I an expert on the legend of Mothman--a winged creature that allegedly appeared before citizens of a town in West Virginia in the late 60s--but I have seen 2002's The Mothman Prophecies several times, read the book of the same name by John Keel, and somehow managed to sit through the overlong and tedious 2011 documentary Eyes of the Mothman. Needless to say, I was excited to watch Elekes and Gallai's film, and I want to thank them personally for providing me the opportunity to do so.
Moth centers its narrative on Thora (Lídia Szabó), a university lecturer who is planning a trip to Hungary in order to track the legendary Mothman and hopefully capture an image of the beast on film. In one of the film's more subdued but effective scenes, Thora gives a lecture about the creature to a group of university students, and it is here that audiences receive historical bits and pieces about the strange legend and its origins (including the fact that the Mothman has reportedly appeared throughout the world, and not just in West Virginia). One of Thora's students, Adam (Gallai), agrees to join Thora on her journey, a plot point that initially struck me as somewhat unbelievable. Why would Thora, an educated woman genuinely interested in reported sightings of the Mothman, want to document her experience while being accompanied by a student whom she doesn't know? While it's true that Adam can shoot and edit the footage that Thora needs, wouldn't it make more sense to embark on this study with a group of like-minded professionals with whom she has established a working relationship? While questions like these cast doubt on the narrative framework of the film, audiences quickly begin to discern that something is not quite right about Thora and her intentions, and this clever spin on familiar territory elevates Moth above its predecessors.
From this point forward, the film follows Thora and Adam on their journey to Hungary, using the found footage aesthetic to capture their experiences. Strange occurrences at their hotel, rising tensions between the characters, and a few other spooky set-pieces (including one sequence in which the characters find an assembly of abandoned cars on the road) serve to increase the suspense in the film and to force the audience to wonder when the real shocks are going to arrive. Fortunately, in Moth's final 20 minutes or so, Elekes and Gallai unveil a number of surprises, all of which explain the sinister motivations behind the trip to Hungary. While fans of the Mothman legend will discover much to enjoy here, this is really a film about greed, cruelty, and remorse. Gallai's script embodies these themes through both effective dialogue and solid characterization, while the acting talents of Szabó and Gallai enable audiences to care about and root for the characters.
Though the film may require viewers to be patient and understanding of the limitations of the found footage genre, the climax and resolution of Moth are worth the wait. Both the makeup effects and sound design are eerily potent. Like Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez before them, Elekes and Gallai use the archetypal setting of the forest to their advantage. Secrets lurk among the tall trees and hide along the murky ground, and the discoveries that Thora and Adam make in the woods are frightening and suspenseful. The cinematography avoids the "shaky cam" approach that many found footage films employ, and instead captures the environment rather poetically at times (in one sequence, Thora exits and walks away from the car, her body slowly disappearing as she wanders into the dark).
With a limited budget and cast, Gergö Elekes and József Gallai have crafted a thought-provoking and chilling film that offers more than just a few jump scares and practical effects. Moth will get audiences thinking about the ease of new technology and the lure of fame and riches, the ways in which people manipulate each other for their own selfish aims, and the fact that monsters in the human world are far more terrifying than those in urban legends.
Learn more about Moth and watch its trailer here.