The X Files Revisited: The 2nd Movie - I Want To Believe
The X Files ran for nine seasons between 1993 and 2002, spanned two movies and then came back from the dead in 2016 for a revival series of 6 episodes. In many ways, the show is as much a cultural phenomenon as it ever was and The Digital Fix has been looking back at key episodes across the show’s run starting with the pilot episode, reviewing numerous classic stories and the first movie The X Files: Fight The Future. Now we're in the final stretch of our revisited as we cover the last season of the original run, the second movie and look back at 'season 10' a year on. Having completed our lookback at season nine, we return to the second movie in the wilderness between the original series and the 2016 revival...
The X Files: I Want To Believe is a curious beast. It came six years after The Truth but it didn't arrive in a big fanfare announcing the continuation of The X Files movie franchise as Chris Carter had originally envisioned; it certainly doesn't justify the many open-ended questions the season nine finale gave us. Unlike The X Files: Fight The Future it's not a mythology story either, with Chris Carter going with his plan to do a 'monster of the week' format for film two. That might have worked had there been a third, but a second sequel never materialised. Even with the non-mythology format it is still weird; imagine a cinematic monster in the vein of Eugene Victor Tooms or the Flukeman? That's what I envisioned from a The X Files monster movie. But this isn't that; with a minimal budget, it's film with only minimal supernatural overtones, so much so that it could easily be reworked as a non-The X Files film.
But despite all that, I'm rather fond of it.
Writers Chris Carter (who also directs) and Frank Spotnitz draw instead on something more psychological and harrowing; it is closer in tone to episodes like Irresistible or Oubliette than Squeeze or The Host with a very human kidnapper and a dark and deeply unsettling feels that could more readily exist on the cusp of reality. It might have a psychic, but the crimes are real and graphic. The Frankenstein-style body transplants might be shocking but there are only just cross over into sci-fi rather than pure science. Carter's budget for this is a fraction of what The X Files: Fight The Future was; there are no UFOs, monsters or explosions; it's a big-screen story that feels like it could have worked just as well on the small screen.
In fact, were The X Files: I Want To Believe part of the revival, it might have been looked on considerably well; a dark, chilling tale of the worst of humanity - the only reason it would be more Oubliette than Irresistible is because it lacks a central human villain. Billy Connolly's peadophile priest is actually trying to help; he certainly is the most interesting guest character, which I will talk more about in a bit. The bad guys really are organ transporter Janke Dacyshyn (Callum Keith Rennie), his gay lover Franz Tomczeszyn (Fagin Woodcock) and the Dr-Frankenstein-like surgeon played by Alex Diakun. But the latter two barely appear until the end and Rennie's character isn't given enough depth. Plus there are the considerable homophobic undertones many picked up upon which made the move unsettling in very much the wrong way.
The truth is, there is no really likeable or engaging character. We all love Billy Connolly, but then you learn that this psychic helping the FBI is a convicted peadophile. That's not something you can really hope to get past - not should you - and arguably the brilliance of Carter and Spotnitz's script is that this character is not a heroic or sympathetic character. He is certainly no Clyde Bruckman, the other most memorable psychic Mulder and Scully encountered in their travels. Scully reviles him, Mulder comes to realise, like FBI Agent Dakota Whitney that he is needed and in the end his abilities are revealed to be true, even when no one believes him. Worse still, he dies made complicit in the crimes of Tomczeszyn, the former altar boy he abused. Is that a tragedy? Is it unfair? Are you supposed to feel sorry for, even forgive Father Joseph Crissman in the end? Surely not, but the film does not make it easy for the audience.
And that homophobic undertone. Dacyshyn is collecting body parts to rebuild his dying husband; in some other story that would be a Tim Burtonesque twisted fairytale. But then the fact that they are gay is treated with distaste, at worst it is suggested Tomczeszyn became gay and a villain because he was abused by Father Crossman. Further still, the film suggests that Tomczeszyn needs to transplanted onto a female body. Why? Because he is not a man? Surely there are male victims Dacyshyn could find with the same rare blood type? But instead he goes for the more obvious female victims. Perhaps Carter never intended to go that deep, but the ideas are certainly odd.
The other two characters are weak too. Amanda Peet arguably makes more of an impression as agent Dakota Whitney than Xzibit does as Agent Mosley Drummy. He serves no real purpose other than to be Whitney's partner. Peet plays her agent as cool headed, willing to make the big decisions and blur the lines in order to track down the missing FBI agent abducted at the beginning of the film. But there doesn't seem to be any depth to her, to lift her beyond the role as 'FBI agent in charge'. Arguably the most interesting thing about Whitney is her shocking death as Dacyshyn pushes her down the lift shaft.
Would have a returning Doggett and Reyes served the film better? Absolutely, though I understand the need to go back to the early years of the show and not focus on other lead characters who stepped into the limelight after Mulder and Scully (if in a limited way). But the plot could have worked in almost the same manner. Imagine Reyes leading the manhunt with Doggett, finding the psychic link an opportunity to bring Mulder back into the field and find a way to exonerate his crimes?
With his engaging, gruff performance, Robert Patrick would have brought life to the second partner while Annabeth Gish would have been easily able to deliver just as good a performance as Peet. And her death? It would still have worked but arguably been more shocking, potentially serving as a way for Doggett to leave the franchise, too guilt ridden over her death. Reyes's demise at the hands of Dacyshyn would have been a better end then what we got in My Struggle II. Utilising these characters and still bringing the focus back to Mulder and Scully? It would have been a win win; even the surprise return of Skinner would have worked if Doggett found himself consumed with grief and unable to help. But maybe that's all wishful thinking.
Talking about absolving Mulder of his crimes, it's a weak move on Chris Carter's move who found that the low key nature of the story was not enough to realistically tie up the cliffhanger to The Truth. Having the FBI waiver his crimes is a cheap, lazy plot device and a questionable one too; Mulder was on trial for killing a high-ranking military officer; how would the FBI have the authority to make that all go away? At least it provides some closure, enabling Mulder (and Scully) to effectively re-enter society without a lengthy prison sentence or death penalty hanging over him.
However I think The X Files: I Want To Believe is largely successful when you forget about those questionable decisions. For all it's low budget it looks brilliant; the aging snow storms raging across the land providing a very atmospheric backdrop to the (pun intended) chilling narrative. It's that sense of the wilderness, of danger lurking everywhere; they are fighting against nature as much as the kidnappers and they're insidious scheme. The manhunt for the FBI agent in the snow, the second victim being driven off the road and waking up in a cage; these are moments that really make the film an unsettling but still engaging watch. There's a good mystery at its core that doesn't offer a happy ending. The FBI agent, even Dakota Whitney, meet grizzly ends and Mulder certainly goes through the wringer once he finds the secret laboratory on the farm.
It also does horror very well; the head in the box is very reminiscent of Se7en a film that The X Files: I Want To Believe certainly invokes and when we finally get to witness the transplant, it is the stuff of gruesome horror. The second victim placed in the bath of ice while Tomczeszyn's head is severed from his withering body is nasty and the moment the head opens its eyes provides a vomit-inducing jump. It's the highlight of the film, a tense final sequence as Scully and Skinner rush to save the day even as Mulder looks set to fall victim too.
There is also great chemistry between Mulder and Scully; it's the only time we actually see them as a functioning couple and the moments of intimacy offer an interesting new dynamic. However at the same time, romance is kept to a minimum; Carter is obviously not overjoyed by having the two former agents as a romantic couple; here they are a functioning duo, having found their routine after several years of living together.
It was also an interesting to move to give Scully a subplot that is not supernatural at all; it's the path that we saw her continue in My Struggle, a surgeon plagued by her inability to cure a sick boy and fighting against the establishment to find an innovative cure. Her uncomfortable encounters with Father Joseph Crissman aside, she is consumed by her desire to fix the child, an interesting side effect of William. He gets a subtle mention but it is interesting that his loss hangs over both Mulder and Scully, particularly for her in the moment where the sick boy's parents ask if she is a mother. For all his desire to get rid of William in season nine, Chris Carter finds himself using the legacy of William both in this movie and the revival. The tragedy of course is that he dumped the baby so that Mulder and Scully could save the world without burden, but a six-year old boy would likely have fitted into The X Files: I Want To Believe well, ground the agents and giving their survival purpose.
I completely understand the fans' frustrations though in a sub-plot that had absolutely nothing to do with The X Files. I think I only appreciated it as much as I did because I knew there were more episodes to come and Gillian Anderson is finally given something to get her teeth into after wasting away in season nine.
The X Files: I Want To Believe is, and will always remain, an oddity in The X Files. Even if there are more films, its placement six years after the original run and eight years before the revival, without progressing any of the wider story will always be questionable. It's not big enough to be deserving of an The X Files movie and Carter gave a story that I don't think anyone was asking for. But it has its charms, an intriguing character in Father Joseph Crissman, moments of gripping horror and an unsettling tone evocative of the show's early years.
As it originally was - the end of The X Files, it was a failure. But now in light of season 10 (and hopefully more to come), I find that it has a strength in its storytelling that is as good as anything the revival did. And if nothing else, it proved that there was still chemistry between Mulder and Scully that I am sured endeared Fox to consider a return to the franchise eight years later...