‘The X-Files: I Want to Believe’ movie review: Mulder and Scully return to the big screen

Six years after the popular TV series left the air and ten since their last outing in cinemas, Mulder and Scully are back in The X-Files: I Want to Believe, directed by series creator Chris Carter. A casual fan of the series, I was more or less a regular viewer for five or six years, but lost interest when the show became too self-conscious, focusing on mass conspiracies and dragging the viewer along from episode to episode; by the time Robert Patrick came aboard, I had stopped watching altogether. 

The series was best, I felt, with self-contained, stand-alone episodes like Home, which had our agents investigating an inbred cannibal family in the Midwest. No surprise then, that I fully enjoyed I Want to Believe; it fits in quite nicely as a small-scale, single episode of the show at its peak, no aspirations otherwise.

After an FBI agent is kidnapped by two men, a pedophile priest claiming psychic visions leads police to a severed arm in the middle of a snow-covered field. Familiar with his work in the paranormal and hoping to recover the agent as soon as possible, ASAC Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) decides to call in former agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) for assistance, much to the chagrin of subordinate Mosley Drummond (Xzibit). 

The problem is finding him: he’s been wanted by the FBI and in hiding for a number of years. Drummond appeals to Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), now working as a physician, to contact Mulder and bring him aboard. Mulder, currently romantically involved with Scully in a nice return to one of the ongoing themes of the show, agrees to do it if she’ll come with him. Soon the duo are back investigating a case with the FBI.

Story has been kept hush-hush, but for little reason; suffice it to say that more body parts are uncovered in the snow, another woman is kidnapped, another familiar face from the TV series turns up late in the film, and things are wrapped up with a Frankenstein allegory. 

And pedophile priest Father Joe’s (Billy Connolly) psychic visions may or may not be as authentic as he claims. And Mulder and Scully endlessly debate the possible existence of the paranormal just like they used to.

Carter has put together a compelling, if a tad leisurely paced, little diversion that feels right at home with some of the better episodes of the show. I was more than happy to return to the characters of Mulder and Scully, and the film succeeds most when focusing on their relationship. Neither Duchovny nor Anderson have lost a beat. 

Comparatively, however, Peet and (especially) Xzibit feel miscast; they simply don’t have the conviction of their counterparts. Connolly steals his scenes as Father Joe. Location work is excellent, with the snow-drenched Vancouver landscape providing a distinctive feel and filling in nicely for Washington.

And yet, for all the praise I can give the film, it does have one impossible-to-overlook drawback: simply put, that it’s a single episode of the TV show padded out to feature-film length. The scope is small, the budget feels small, and the storyline is more or less irrelevant to the continuing themes from the show. 

The 1998 film, X-Files: Fight the Future featured plenty of special effects, paranormal activity, and answers to (or at least expansions on) continuing questions from the series.  I Want to Believe has none of that, instead content to deliver a standalone story that might as well have been featured on a weekly installment of the series, along with a generous helping of character work.

That’s fine by me: I’m content with watching an old episode of the show, and prefer this film to the previous one. But I wonder who they made this for; with the small scope and focus on the characters of Mulder and Scully, this isn’t a film for audiences expecting a summer blockbuster or those who are unfamiliar with the TV series. At the same time, devoid of any of the usual paranormal X-Files mythology, this isn’t really for die-hard fans either. 

I Want to Believe seems to be more or less for casual viewers like myself, those who might gladly come across a rerun of the show while channel surfing and sit back for familiar, solid entertainment. And while the film works perfectly on that level, it’s difficult to recommend a trip out to the cinema to revisit these characters when a DVD might be just as handy.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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