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No audience member will be surprised to learn that Father Joe's visions are accurate: they lead Mulder to more than one dead woman and another in jeopardy. A Russian cabal has been kidnapping women and using parts of their bodies to graft onto ailing comrades. (It's great to have the Russkies back as movie villains, since screenwriters were running out of ways to cartoonize the Arabs. Carter often portrayed Russians as cold, tough bad guys, ruthless and soulless.) Turns out the boss of the enterprise had been a child victim of Father Joe's. Did the actions of the predator priest turn this kid into a monster? Do the sins of the Fathers infect future generations?
Mulder has his own mission: to see if Father Joe's second sight can locate Mulder's sister Samantha, purportedly abducted by aliens when a child and never seen again. (Actually, we know from the series' final episode that the girl died in 1987, after undergoing experiments that produced enough Samanthas to keep Mulder addled for years.) And Scully has reasons to get back to her day job, as a surgeon at Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital. She hopes to find a treatment for a boy whose cancer the hospital authorities think is incurable. (X-philes will recall that, in the shank of the series, Scully bore a child, William, through in vitro fertilization; the sperm may have been Mulder's. The boy in the hospital would be about her son's age.)
Hoping to assure today's moviegoers that they don't need do the homework of consulting the TV show's labyrinthine "mythology" of its many back-stories, Carter has underlined that this is a stand-alone story; indeed, the film feels like a middling two-parter from the old show. But surviving fans will want to know that Mulder and Scully those platonic pals whose personal and professional relationship was an essay in heroic withholding, up there with the half-century foreplay of Fermina and Florentino in Love in the Time of Cholera are shown [spoiler alert!] in bed together. They certainly talk like two people who have been dancing into and out of each other's arms for ages. "That stubbornness of yours," Scully says, "it's why I fell in love with you." Mulder: "It's why we can't be together."
And while there's no Cigarette Smoking Man, and the Lone Gunman dweebs weren't invited to the reunion, Mulder and Scully must be heartened by the brief return of [spoiler alert!] their old boss Skinner (Mitch Pileggi). Just as important is the film's location in the Great White North. The first five seasons of The X Files were shot in British Columbia, which was a good fit for a show that wanted to leave its fans with a chill. In its pensiveness and good manners, its immersion in desolate wastes, its search for eccentricity, even dementia, behind the blandest Anglo face, the show was devoutly Canadian. For the movie, which is set mostly in West Virginia, Carter took the crew back to Vancouver for one of its snowiest episodes ever.
Today's target demographic was barely sentient when the show was in its mid-'90s prime. The kids want thrills, and I Want to Believe offers some good ones, though of an old-fashioned variety. The chases aren't Batmobile-vs.-Joker-truck, they either involve a snowplow or are on foot. And the shock scenes are closer to the murky threat of Val Lewton's '40s horror movies than to the slice-and-dice explicitness of the Saw and Hostel slasher series. Early on, a young woman takes a dip in a public pool, then gets out. Submerged in the pool is a man with a predatory smile. As the camera moves in on him, an air bubble escapes. Nice frisson. And there's one shot that sent people at a critics' screening out of their seats. We'll just say it's a tribute to that old Z-movie classic The Brain That Wouldn't Die.
The movie has manifold pleasures for the show's fans, as much for the interplay of Mulder and Scully the soulmates who were afraid to become lovers as for a story that concentrates on human, not astral, malfeasance. But for the uninitiated, The X Files: I Want to Believe may seem as musty and forbidding as one of those dank secrets that Mulder and Scully were forever digging up from some backyard, or fetid swamp, or their own aching hearts.