A horror masterpiece or a retread of Ice?
The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. Now eight years after the second movie The X Files: I Want To Believe, the show is returning for six new episodes in 2016. Here at The Digital Fix, we are going to work our way through each season, reviewing some of the big episodes – and both movies – across the years in the build up to season ten. With 202 episodes, there is simply too much to cover every episode; instead we’ll pick the story highlights of each year. This late season one episode plays on ours fears of the darkness and insects in a horrifying tale in the wilderness…
Darkness Falls is one of the late season episodes everyone remembers; green insects coming out after dark to attack and cocoon their victims in the woods. Rewatching this late season one episode, it is arguably a great horror tale, playing on the audience’s fears of what is waiting for us in the darkness. But this time round, perhaps because I’m only reviewing selected episodes of each season, I found myself asking…isn’t this just Ice redux?
Let’s compare these two season one horror ‘classics’. A doomed expedition is the middle of the wilderness? Check. An ancient life form unearthed and unleashed on the unsuspecting said expedition? Check. Mulder, Scully and their ‘team’ trapped, with no radio and no way to escape the threat? Check. Don’t get me wrong, Darkness Falls is a great episode – and would perhaps have worked better in season two or three, but so close to the arguably better Arctic-based episode, it does feel like the slightly inferior second cousin.
However, as a standalone episode it does have it merits. The pre-credit sequence is a good one. A group of loggers are filled with panic as darkness approaches. The idea of grown men scared of the dark immediately raises the threat and seeing them running through the woods as the threat closes in makes for an intense opening. So when Mulder jokes to Scully in their office that the trip to investigate the disappearance of the 30 loggers – something that also occurred decades earlier – you know things are going to take a worse. “Come on, Scully, it’ll be a nice trip to the forest. Mulder tells her. No it won’t. Have you forgotten what happened to you in Ice?
This time, Mulder and Scully are joined on their doomed expedition by forest ranger Larry Moore who proves his worth as the episode progresses and Steve Humphreys from the logging company – who doesn’t. While both perceive the threat to be eco-terrorists trying to stop the logging company from cutting down ancient trees, the real threat is in the trees. Like Ice they find themselves stuck at the cabin (this time eco terrorist spikes have crippled their truck) the radio isn’t working and they are more than a day’s walk from civilisation. I found it interesting that any forest could truly be considered a wilderness, but in the mountainous, misty forests of this episode, it feels very real.
After a rather nasty scene where they find a mummified logger strung up in a cocoon in a tree, we are introduced to Doug Spinney, a renegade eco-terrorist, played by a young Titus Welliver. Part of rewatching the early episodes of The X Files is playing spot the pre-famous actor. So far this season we’ve had Seth Green, Felicity Huffman and now Welliver joins that crowd.
Doug immediately begins spouting phrases like darkness is our enemy, that’s when they come and tells Mulder “They come from the sky, take a man right off his feet and devour him alive. I saw it happen.. The suspense in the lead up to the first inevitable attack builds nicely throughout the episode. The green insects swarming in the shadow of a tree close to their cabin, Mulder, Scully and their companions nervously sleeping with the lights on, the generator humming with the threat of it crashing and plunging them into terrifying darkness…the tensions racks up nicely until Stephen’s nasty death later in the episode.
After discovering the the loggers has illegally cut down an old redwood, exposing the 600-year old ring of green larvae, Stephen refuses to listen to reason, blaming Doug even when it is obvious he is not responsible. The real threat is nature itself and Stephen witnesses this first hand in the terrifying moment the insects swarm through the air vents of the truck and mummify him in a cocoon.
The tension rises further as Doug goes off with the remaining power to save his friends, a mistake Mulder makes leaving them with little power. After one desperate call on the radio, he, Scully and Larry are trapped in the cabin, transfixed in the single light bulb while the generator rattles its last breath. It takes a more chilling turn when Scully discovers the green insects all over her hand; the truth is that they are everywhere, it is just the light that keeps them sedated. As the generator dies they are plunged into darkness and the audience holds its breath as the sun rises, giving them one last chance of survival.
I loved that for all the skills of Larry the ranger, Scully the scientist or Mulder the believer, they are forced to take the very same action as the loggers and make a run for it, even though there is a very real chance darkness will catch them before they reach civilisation. Doug arriving with the truck gives them a chance only to be undone by the irony of his road spikes slashing the tyres of his trucks, leaving them exposed on the road once more. Betrayed by his own actions, Doug meets a nasty end as he is carried off by the insects and eaten alive.
The real difference that makes Darkness Falls stand out from Ice is the fact that Mulder and Scully actually fall victim to the threat in a very horrific way. The agents and Larry are unable to anything as the insects swarm into their truck and cocoon them the same way they did Stephen. As Mulder and Scully find themselves consumed, the screen fades cleverly to green rather than black and we are left wondering how on earth they survived that.
Helicopters arrive and the audience asks is it too late? Of course it can’t be, but at the same time, seeing these characters wrapped in thick webbing, Scully’s arm twitching, is deeply unsettling. As the episode ends at the quarantined medical facility, a visibly injured Mulder, his face covered in red burns looks on at Scully and Larry as they lie unconscious. He is told they lost a lot of fluids, two to three hours more and they wouldn’t have survived. It is a pretty grim ending. “I told her it was going to be a nice trip to forest” Mulder mutters grimly to the doctor treating him.
There is nothing nice about that ending and my only gripe is that the next episode didn’t follow on from their inevitable recovery period and trauma of that incident in the forests. Darkness Falls may not be as good as Ice but it certainly has it moments and serves to mix in an environmental message with horror to deliver another tense 45 minutes of television. Are you afraid to go outside after dark? After this episode you might be.
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