“I have a dog with two noses.”
“How does it smell?”
When I was in Vancouver* I watched some of last year’s X Files. On the plane back from Bangkok, trapped in a tin box with absolutely nothing to do, I watched a couple more. I’ve been haunted by them ever since: not because they were eerily effective at sending a nostalgic chill down my spine, but because I found almost all of them (including one that was genuinely about a Kiwi man-lizard) to be absolute crap.
Even the horrors of these 2016 X Files did not adequately prepare me for the time-warp to Year of the Cash-In, because I have also seen the feature-length movie X Files 2 (aka I Want to Believe), an utterly bizarre ‘standalone thriller’ set a few years after the original run, intended to cap ten years of running about in the dark searching for truth and finding absolutely fuck all.
Do you ever get that feeling with some films (The Fountain for example? or Tideland?) where they are so weird that you kind of hate them the first time, but then they lodge in your mind and won’t go away until you watch them again. This time, on second viewing, you see more than you saw the first time? Suddenly you get it? The film was just a little smarter than you are, and you needed to give it time to grow on you? I Want to Believe is not one of those movies.
I know. I know because I saw it twice. I watched it and then, a few weeks later, after that flight from Bangkok, I watched it again. Firstly, to make sure it actually exists. Secondly, to see if I had misjudged it. I intentionally watched the movie twice to see if I had misjudged a film that has David Duchovny nearly lose an acting competition with a two-headed dog. Sometimes, I question the paths taken by my own neurons.
You may have noticed that I’ve spent a lot of my summertime (and my life in general) sitting about watching movies; and then way too much time thinking about those movies. As a kid, I always liked The X Files. I remember my sibling throwing a hissy fit when the first film came out because I got to watch it on the big screen and they didn’t (it was rated 15). To me though, Mulder and Scully died in Antarctica (or Whistler, BC at least). That show never made it into the 21st Century for me. Everything after the first film is filler. By season 7 or so, I had well and truly given up.
Even so, I watched X Files 2. Twice.
Have you seen I Want to Believe? It does exist. We can’t ignore that, can we? The faint ‘kwapish, kwapish’ sound that rumbles underneath the soundtrack is the onomatopoeic slap of Anderson and Duchovny counting their retirement cash as a dead horse is flogged beneath them. The end credit sequence has a hip-hop version of the famous theme, played out over Polaroid photos of a bunch of people having a great time making this film, seemingly oblivious to the fact that not one iota of their joy has translated to the screen. One Polaroid shows a two-headed dog.
“I may not go down in history, but I will go down on your sister.” – David Duchovny
And so Mulder, languishing under the Bush administration, has put away the shirt and tie. He sits shiftily in a Unabomber shack with a Moroccan shepherd’s beard and is surprised, for some reason, that he’s currently under suspicion by the FBI. Scully has given up on life and begun a bizarre sideline in experimental brain surgery on half-sharp children. Skinner sits peacefully behind a desk until his two craggy-faced ex-agents finally think up yet another ingenious way to piss him off near the end of the movie.
I was not disappointed when I lied my fourteen year old arse past the Virgin Cinema security all those years ago. I thought, and still think, that the original X Files movie from 1998 is quite good. As a TV-show-turned-cinematic-spectacle it is no Fire Walk With Me, but it’s no Charlie’s Angels either. Nor (like those endless, nonsensical Star Trek movies) is it just a very long TV episode. It’s a story that you can watch (and probably enjoy) without any knowledge of the series. It’s got Cronenberg body horror, Ridley Scott cinematography and James Cameron effects (the aliens are even designed by the guys from Aliens). It’s quite well acted. There are no (count em: zero) two-headed dogs in it.
Ten years on from the first movie, the sequel that nobody wanted is almost its opposite. The first one was a summer blockbuster: pre-credits teaser with cavemen fighting off an alien menace; exploding cars and buildings; mysterious mentors leading to globetrotting adventure; secret base full of baddies that explodes at the end. This one is a dead-of-winter ‘standalone’ horror flick. The pre-credits see Billy Connolly* dropping to his knees in poorly displayed anguish. Nothing explodes. Nothing even happens.
This is probably because creator Chris Carter didn’t try to direct the first one himself. X Files 2: I Want to Believe is what happens when he does, like some loveable but batshit crazy uncle who really wants to do something stupid and finally, after ten years of nagging, is allowed to do so.
I’m pretty much a paid up fan of the series. I have an X Files t-shirt. I fairly actively want to believe. But, for a ‘standalone’ (as the publicity material keeps reminding us) fireside tale, this one is almost completely impenetrable to people who haven’t seen the later seasons of the show. (For example, I had no idea that, spoilers, Mulder and Scully were boning each other and that they have a son together. I thought they died in Antarctica.)
This film is a truly unfortunate sign of our remake/sequel/franchise/reboot/cash/cash times. This is terrifying nostalgia unbound. It’s full to the brim with Canadian character actors who were on the TV show back in the day, many of them putting on Russian accents that convince no one. Even poor Callum Keith Rennie, not so fresh from playing Duchovny’s drinking and snorting buddy in Californication, is in it.
Worse than a long TV episode, this is fished-from-the-DVD-bargain-bin-with-Steven-Seagal-and-End–of–Days stuff. This is a $30 million movie that looks like a $1 million movie. David Fincher and Stephen King done less than half as well, rated PG-13. It certainly pressure tests to the very max my theory that I respect anyone who directs a feature film, any feature film.
Look, there’s no getting round it, okay? This movie is shit. It’s sad, sad shit and your childhood as you know it is gone. It died in Antarctica, and the people who tried to resurrect it ought to be ashamed of their damned fool selves. Seriously, Crank 2 is not only a better sequel, but a better piece of cinema than this. I’m a man of few regrets but I would happily pay money to a Kickstarter campaign that aimed to build a time machine that could achieve nothing but giving me my four hours back. I would undergo a Lacuna style procedure that would expunge this film from my very memory.
And yet… and yet… I find myself absolutely fascinated, almost awed, by this absolute car crash of a piece of crap. Did this ever feel like a good idea***? Did these filmmakers, like that modern Prometheus Dr. Victor Frankenstein (an obvious inspiration for this decapitated and dismembered bloody mess), even stop to question what they were thinking? I don’t fear the aliens and the unknown, I fear the probability that they actually did, and that the answer is just “dollars.”
*(birthplace of The X Files!)
**who’s acting is set to flat out dolls-eyed ennui the whole time, playing a part written especially for him (which I imagine was a bit like being handed a brightly wrapped gift and opening a shit-in-the-box that he was too polite to flush away).
*** “And here’s the gag, David. It’s got…”
“Ah, one more than usual! Well I like that, Chris. Kinda mythic. A little Freudian. Very subtle.”
“I know, right?”
“Did you see the movie that I directed?”