The X-Files without conspiracies or aliens - I don't believe it! I watched X-Files regularly up to the point where Fox 'Spooky' Mulder (David Duchovny) was starting to turn into a guest star rather than being one of the leads. What made the series work originally was the core concept of a cynic and a believer investigating the paranormal, working as a sniffed-at-by-colleagues branch of the FBI. The chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson (as Dana Scully) was phenomenal even if they allegedly didn't always get along behind the scenes. They played off each other well, whether they were being action heroes, being funny or even being romantic. This chemistry unfortunately seems to have somewhat dissipated, going by the second X-Files movie. It's not the only element that is absent from the expected mix: I found myself missing the big-conspiracy-within-a-conspiracy angle that had started to bore and annoy me during the later seasons of the series. There isn't any international travelling, there aren't any aliens and there are no explosions of any kind. Unlike the first movie, the story feels very intimate and small-scale, like one of the stand-alone episodes featuring a case-of-the-week.
Scully is no longer with the FBI but working at a hospital. Her former employers reach out to her to contact Mulder. They need him to verify the authenticity of a psychic (Billy Connolly) who is helping them on a missing person's case, this person being an FBI agent who the psychic claims is still alive. The psychic is a former priest and a convicted paedophile who wants to atone for his sins. Is he working for God, the Devil or is he a con-man? Scully meanwhile has to decide whether to painfully treat a gravely ill young patient of hers or to let him die in peace. During all this, Mulder and Scully try to figure out their feelings for each other.
The location is a snowy town, used to great effect to create a feeling of cold, isolation and discomfort. Colours are muted and dark. The movie is about hope in the face of darkness and doubt, but the feelings it conjures up aren't upbeat, more ones of quiet despair. Apart from a hilarious use of the X-files theme in combination with a photo of George W. Bush and the occasional snarky line of dialogue, there isn't much to laugh at this time around. Seeing Scully defeated and Mulder as a slightly bitter, powerless recluse isn't the welcome reunion you might hope for. I'm all for introspection and reflection, but I expected something different from an X-files movie. More of a sense of fun and adventure.
If the story had been really strong, the movie could still have worked as an arty little thriller in its own right, but it builds on the theme of faith, using a psychic and religion, which means the writer gets a free pass to make unlikely things happen and hint that they were predetermined by a higher power. Which of course they were: by the writer, who is the God of the story after all. There is once instance in particular, involving a mailbox, which had me rolling my eyes. I also didn't like the way in which homosexuality was portrayed, in particular how it was dubiously linked to paedophilia. It seemed sensationalist, random and in bad taste. At least the explanation behind the disappearance of the FBI agent felt suitably X-files: far-fetched and appropriately gross. A short appearance by Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) also made it seem more like old times again for a moment. Here's hoping that in the next movie, they all find a nice big conspiracy to sink their teeth into and get to blow up some stuff real good.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe, 2008. 104 min. Director: Chris Carter. Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Billy Connolly.