Movie Review - X-Files: I Want To Believe

X-Files Spotnitz & Carter Interview

It’s been six years since we last saw FBI Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully as they went underground together to escape the conspiratorial forces arrayed against them in the final episode of the long-running hit Fox TV series The X-Files.

But the franchise’s dormancy is over with the release July 25th of The X-Files: I Want to Believe, directed and co-written by series creator Chris Carter. The second feature film for the franchise, after 1998’s The X-Files: Fight the Future, steers clear of aliens and abductions. Instead, it delivers a standalone horror tale that, despite being original, is overwhelmed and dominated by a compelling and emotional examination of Mulder and Scully’s ongoing relationship.

Appropriate to the paranoia, conspiratorial bent and secrecy of the show, almost all story details for I Want to Believe have been kept under tight wraps, save that the film would not delve into the series’ complex alien abduction mythology. According to the press notes, only Carter and producer/co-writer Frank Spotnitz had complete copies of the script — everyone else, including key crew members and stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, had to read the script under supervision and could not keep their own copies.

Without spoiling much, the film begins with a crime that becomes increasingly bizarre and disturbing once the FBI brings in a proclaimed psychic and disgraced priest named Father Joe (played by Billy Connolly). His disturbing visions prompt FBI Agent Dakota Whitney (played by Amanda Peet) to seek out the help of the long-missing expert on all things paranormal, Fox Mulder. This evokes conflicting impulses in the former agents, with Mulder reinvigorated by the case and pursuing it aggressively, while Scully is reluctant to return to such dark places and prefers to remain a doctor in a small Catholic hospital.

Anderson and Duchovny give excellent performances and the film succeeds the most in making the characters feel like real people who have grown and changed since we last saw them. They remain Mulder and Scully, but are older, maybe a bit wiser and even a bit the worse for wear.

There are a few explicit connections to the series — a few classic cases are mentioned, and fans should be pleased that the events of the show’s final two seasons are not ignored the way they could have been. Only one other character from the original series re-appears in a small role, though since it’s not mentioned in the billing block, previews or production notes, it’s best not to spoil the surprise.

I Want to Believe evokes many of the best elements of the series. The film has a grainy look, complementing the often-haggard appearances that reflect the hard lives the leads have been living. The crime setting in wintry, rural West Virginia is hostile, rustic, and seemingly of another age. The script is tight and tense, though not lacking the show’s trademark sense of humor. The film is edited down to a perhaps-too-slim 104 minutes. And the score from Mark Snow, who scored the original series and came up with the show’s signature whistle theme, is a true highlight.

The ending echoes the ambiguity of many episodes, and fans are sure to come away with completely different takes on the film, depending on their expectations. Fans focused on the Mulder-Scully relationship will be thrilled to see how it has changed and continues to change through the film. Those who would prefer the film stand on its own as a thriller will find the investigation plot fails to pan out into anything that rivals the best episodes. And thrill-seekers looking for a blockbuster may find this film too small and intimate to satisfy their craving.

It’s clear that there’s room for more X-Files films. And while I Want to Believe is unlikely to set box office records or completely satisfy the show’s legion of fans, there’s still enough truth out there to warrant revisiting The X-Files.

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