The F*cking Black Sheep: The X-Files: I Want To Believe (2008)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!



Hell yeah friends, it happened! And what better way to welcome the New Year than by kicking back, twisting a doob, cracking a cold one and turning on the tube to peep what our favorite small-screen FBI Agents – Fox Mulder and Dana Scully – get up to in the 11th season of the monumentally peerless sci-fi series THE X-FILES? I honestly can’t think of a better midweek appointment!

In fact, such genuinely heartfelt love have I for the trailblazing hit skein created by Chris Carter, that I even angrily, unapologetically defend both of its big-screen addendums, the 1998 film which many adored as well, but also the publicly panned and critically dismissed 2008 sequel, THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE. There are a number of reasons as to why we think the sequel underperformed when it did and the way it did, some even justifiably acceptable, but the bottom line remains: I WANT TO BELIEVE has been wrongly forgotten as a F*cking Black Sheep of a movie. On its own merits, it’s a very well made thriller, one that both pushes provocative plot and reinforces nuanced character, and as far as its small-screen counterpart is concerned, actually plays as one of the better examples of a protracted two-part episode. For all the X-FILES love in the universe, I WANT TO BELIEVE this movie will eventually find its rightful place of prominence!

Now, before we hash out the particulars of the plotline, let’s address why we think I WANT TO BELIEVE faltered out of the gate. First, the movie was meant to be made right after the original run of the series ended in 2002, but when it became delayed, Carter had to rethink the entire storyline in order to update the action. This is why, and perhaps another key reason many people responded less favorably to the film, Carter eschewed the overarching alien invasion plotline in favor of a more singular, standalone supernatural horror episode, similar to the monster-of-the-week motif the TV series often engendered. None of the grander governmental conspiracy themes and extraterrestrial secrecies that were heavily featured, as in the first film, which I can see may have irked more than a few fans. Not me though. I actually love, not like, LOVE when the X-Files lean more toward the horror and give us gross-out and grisly one-offs.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally dig the overriding theme of Mulder and sister being abducted, his open heart, mind and faith in the cosmos versus Scully’s cold, hard scientific method, but the episodes I always responded to most were stuff like “The Host” and “Humbug” from season 2. Or, what’s the one that totally ripped off THE THING? Oh yeah, “Ice,” with Xander Berkley, Felicity Huffman and Ken Kirzinger. Love that one!

Another reason I WANT TO BELIEVE caused the movie to underperform at the box-office, as posited by both stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, is how the movie suffered from the massive wake of destruction left by THE DARK KNIGHT, released just one week before THE X-FILES 2. Can’t really argue with that logic…TDK waylaid every mofo in its path that summer. Also, by then, the X-Files TV series had been off the air for a good six years, so there’s surely an element of being out of sight, out of mind that must have contributed to its underwhelming early returns. Moreover, for a summer movie sans a single explosion, loud shootout or pyrotechnic climax, I WANT TO BELIEVE was arguably in the wrong lane to begin with. It doesn't hinder the quality, though!

Now let’s delve into the nitty-gritty. If the first X-FILES flick focused more on Mulder’s storyline of alien invasion and his sister’s abduction, I WANT TO BELIEVE concentrates more on Scully’s skepticism and clinical adherence to scientific fact. Much of her contentious nature in the film is due to her skeptical view of Father Joseph Crissman (Billy Connolly), a defrocked Catholic priest convicted of molesting 27 altar boys, who claims to have psychic visions of women being abducted and murdered in the wintry West Virginian town of Somerset. The latest victim? A female FBI agent named Monica Bannen (Xantha Radley). FBI agents Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peete) and Mosley Drummy (Xzibit) recruit our pals Mulder and Scully, the former of which dwells in bored, thumb-twirling isolation (being on the lam after agency banishment and all), the latter now working as a staff physician at a Catholic hospital. Reluctant at first, the two agree to investigate the case, as victims continue to get mowed off the snowy roads by a maniac in a snowplow, which ultimately leads to the stunning revelation of a nefarious organ-harvesting operation by a team of evil Euro-doctors. As always with Fox and Scully, shite gets nutty!

But really, it’s the characteristic interplay between Fox and Dana, their years of checkered history and sizzling chemistry together, that really makes the tug-and-pull tension of the movie’s moral dilemma carry the right amount of dramatic weight. Fox wants to believe, Scully wants NOT to believe, yet through their understanding of each other, their professionalism, their teamwork including a prolific 15-year track record, they’re allowed to put their own personal, ethical beliefs aside in order to keep their eyes on the primary task: finding the truth. To wit, the movie asks the profound question: at what price is it worth it to keep a dying person alive? At what point does it no longer become justifiable? The subplot involving Scully’s dying child patient, who can only survive if successfully undergone an experimental bone marrow transplant, subtly ties in with this theme of moral ambiguity, even if at first blush it seems unrelated.

It’s one of the things I love about THE X-FILES in general. Nothing is by mistake, out of place or at all accidental. Everything is meticulously plotted, yet because so much of the action is dependent on the rich characterizations of Fox and Dana, it never feels contrived. There’s always a perfect balance of story and character, and it’s also the case in I WANT TO BELIEVE. Take the scene in bed, for example, where Fox and Dana trade pillow-talk barbs before naturally, totally organically, changing subjects to the case at hand (animal tranquilizers). It’s a beautiful dance indeed!

Series creator Chris Carter, who made his directorial debut with the film, wisely co-opted his longtime X-Files writing pal Frank Spotnitz to pen the script. Carter also cast Billy Connolly as Father Joe in an inspired decision, as Connolly gives a chillingly grounded turn as a sinful man who can see into the future. It’s a performance I actually didn’t much like the first time I saw it, but one I’ve come to appreciate for how atypical it is of Connolly, but also how deceptively complex the role turns out to be in the end. At first I thought he was too over the top, his accent too distracting to take seriously. But upon repeat viewings, much like the film itself, Connolly’s performance has been unfairly overlooked.

Bottom line, THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE is far better than people received it at the time, and way better than people remember it as in hindsight. For a first time feature, Chris Carter mounted a skillfully crafted thriller that not only honors the legacy of his own TV series, by filling in the six year gap left in the shows absence, it widens the canvas to give us an even fuller, more substantial picture. All this to say, as I count down the hours until season 11 finally returns tonight, I’m going to revisit what has clearly been misread as a F*cking Black Sheep. I WANT TO BELIEVE you’ll do the same!




Extra Tidbit: Are you a fan of I WANT TO BELIEVE? Did you be watch s11e1 of The X-Files last night? How was it?



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