The X Files goes old school in the latest creepy episode from season 11. Baz Greenland reviews ‘Familiar’
After a bit of a minor dip mid-season (but still retaining a decent quality of storytelling), The X Files has been back on form for the last two weeks and Familiar was a creepy, thrilling installment of a continuously confident season 11. The witch craft tale in a small town had a perfect old-school The X Files vibe and plenty of great imagery to stick in your head long after the credits have rolled.
Taking some inspiration from the recent cinematic version of Stephen King’s IT, the opening saw a cute little boy in a yellow rain coat lured to his death by a clownish figure in the woods. The similarity between Georgie and Andrew was not lost partly because Sebastian Billingsley-Rodriguez was so adorable in the role you were praying he wouldn’t meet his inevitable gruesome end. But it was also packed full of atmosphere and chills that you were enthralled from the very start.
And Mr Chuckle Teeth, the ‘familiar’ that lured Andrew to his death was a proper scary creation, his demented eyes and twisted walk masked by the child-like smile that the poor boy was obsessed with. His appearances throughout the episode were enough to set your teeth on edge, dancing on the TV, lurking in the house and singing a little ditty to drag you to Hell. And then we saw the ‘familiar’ that lured second victim Emily away. The demented creations in colourful suits obviously bore inspiration from classic children’s TV program Teletubbies, but these dead faces, pointed ears and weeping eyes were a perverse, deeply unsettling version. I’m not sure why any parent would have let their child watch them; by the time the purple ‘Hell-etubby’ appeared at the door, I was on edge.
This certainly has the feel of season two The X Files (my personal favourite era of the show); witchcraft in a small town full of secrets and lies, the intermixing of guest character storylines and Mulder and Scully’s investigation and Scully trying to give rational (if no less controversial) explanations for the child’s death while Mulder spouts something more extreme and supernatural; Benjamin Van Allen (his his first script for the show) really drew on this early Vancouver years for inspiration in this story and Holly Dale, also in her directional debut, really captures the unease and slightly washed out feel that we remember from those 90s episodes.
And while Gillian Anderson and Duchovny continued to be superb (and reflective in that horrible scene in the morgue), they were joined by a strong ensemble cast this week. Alex Carter brought depth to the Sheriff, haunted by his affair and struggling with guilt of the child murders, while Jason Gray-Stanford expertly delivered a man torn apart by grief over his son’s murder and wife’s adultery. Both wives, Erin Chambers’ Anna and Sharon Taylor’s Diana were strong characters too, the twist around Anna in the end being particularly brutal.
And sci-fi stalwart Roger Cross proved to be a strong ally for Mulder and Scully as he faced a town on the rampage. The ‘witch hunt’ of the paedophile was a harrowing look at the mob mentality of today’s society, proving that people haven’t moved on as much as they might want to believe from the days of witch trials and persecution. Even with that message, I wasn’t expecting the brutal shooting that ended the main suspect’s life.
Because this was a bloody and brutal episode, wrapped up in a macabre haunting of child-friendly figures, ghosts and Hellhounds. Not only did the two children at the centre of the two families die in a sickening fashion (thankfully taking place off-screen) but the four adults also met some grizzly demises. This was where Dale really directed the hell (pun intended) out of this episode, from the vision of Andrew and that causes Diana’s crash to her husband being stalked by Mr Chuckle Teeth and shot dead by his boss. As for the sheriff, his face ripped off by the Hellhound was a reminder that The X Files really could be nasty when it wants to be (remember the Band Aid man last season?) and the fiery death of Anna was a grizzly conclusion to this dark and twisted story.
It’s no wonder Scully was ready to get out of the town come the episodes end; as an audience member, I loved every minute of it. It had stellar performances, creepy moments, shocking deaths, macabre figures and a grizzly case of witchcraft completely reminiscent of The X Files‘s earlier seasons. Familiar was yer again, another reason to justify the show’s continued revival. I just wish we had many more episodes like this still to come…
Next week, Channel 5 is airing the final two episodes and with Gillian Anderson leaving, this is probably it. But at least, Familiar, like This, Plus One, The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat and Rm9sbG93ZXJz last week, have left us wanting more. The X Files is truly back on form, even if it’s a brief but enthralling return to the shory’s glory days.
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