On the surface, X Files: I Want to Believe should appeal to both die-hard fans and those with only a passing interest in the sci-fi TV series. The satisfyingly creepy plot stands alone without previous knowledge of X Files lore. However, it gradually emerges that I Want to Believe is primarily designed for those devoted fans left hanging at the end of the TV series in 2002. Their patience has finally been rewarded.
Six years after the end of the X Files, Mulder (David Duchovny ) and Scully (Gillian Anderson ) are persuaded to work on an FBI case. The case is strange enough to bring a bearded, reclusive Mulder out of hiding, while Scully is reluctantly persuaded away from her day job as a hospital doctor. FBI agent Whitney (Amanda Peet ), convinced of Mulder’s uncanny abilities with paranormal cases, has decided only he (and Scully ) can help her break a multiple kidnapping case.
After several women are abducted in rural Virginia, a psychic comes forward, insisting he knows where the abductor is. Father Joseph Chrissman (Billy Connolly ) is convinced he can find the victims’ location. Led by Agent Whitney and advised now by Mulder, the FBI reluctantly allow the wild-eyed former priest to lead them to a location deep in the countryside.
Directed by series creator Chris Carter, I Want to Believe is faithful to the series' original weirdness before it became supplanted by conspiracy theories. There are only occasional, passing, references to alien abductions here. Instead, the film feels like an homage to the original spookiness of the early episodes, in which strange phenomena were investigated across the rural US. The lo-fi approach is heightened by the lack of CGI and the grainy texture of the image throughout the film.
There are still some strikingly cinematic moments, such as the scene alluded to in the trailer, showing a phalanx of FBI agents tracking a crazed, white-haired, man across the snow. However, these are achieved by dramatic, careful framing and an older, more realist form of showcasing the spectacular, before CGI began to be used to create extraordinary and ultimately unbelievable effects.
I Want to Believe comes across as an elongated episode from the show, not least because of the intense focus on the characters, particularly (and predictably ) Mulder and Scully. A subplot of the film explores how each ex-agent is faring six years on. Scully appears to have thrown herself into her medical work, while Mulder still sits for long stretches in his office, where old case documents and photos still cover the walls.
The biggest contrast to the TV series lies in the acting styles of Duchovny and Anderson, which have evolved from their time in the X-Files. While Duchovny maintains his low-key approach to acting, which itself mirrors Mulder’s understated attitude, Anderson has been working in theatre and branching out in film. She delivered surprisingly good performances in House of Mirth (2000 ) and the British TV adaptation of Dickens’ Bleak House. Consequently, her portrayal of Dana Scully is far more developed and nuanced than before. As Mulder, Duchovny too provides more depth to the character, although as ever he keeps something in reserve.
Where the first X Files movie, 1998’s The X Files, was a bombastic blockbuster, I Want to Believe is a much more intimate film, focused on the characters as much as the genuinely macabre plot. This is definitely one for the fans, although it may also win over new audiences who find Carter’s low-key approach refreshing.