As a pretty big fan of The X-Files (I even went to a convention once) back when it was on TV, I was definitely pleased when the news came out last year that a new feature film would be coming out this year. Certainly, my enthusiasm was particularly strong thanks to the fact that stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson would both be returning and that series creator Chris Carter would be writing and directing. The resultant film is surprisingly modest, but I also found it to be a spooky and compelling thriller that felt true to the characters and effectively reflected the tone of the series.
With it being 6 years since the series ended (and 10 years since the last feature film), Carter and his co-writer Frank Spotnitz (also a regular contributor to the series), wisely decided to go with a story that very easily stands on its own without substantially involving the complex, and sometimes kind of convoluted, conspiracy mythology that ended up generally dominating the later seasons of the series. The result actually has more of the look and feel of an episode from one of the earliest seasons, back when the main focus was on stand-alone plots about a crime with, often somewhat ambiguous, supernatural overtones. While I did enjoy the conspiracy aspects of the series, if nothing else for its pure complexity, I tended to prefer the more standalone episodes. Because of that, this movie largely fit with what I generally liked best about the series. I can understand pretty easily, though, why this film could feel disappointing to fans that preferred the conspiracy stories or who were hoping for a feature film that had grander ambitions.
It has been pretty widely reported that 20th Century Fox would only green-light another "X-Files" feature if Carter agreed to keep it to a very low-budget. Reportedly, the film ended up costing around $30 million, which is amazingly low for a major studio feature today, particularly one built around a known franchise. Fortunately, they came up with a story that fit the budget instead of trying to cut corners. The film is very dialog-driven and does not feature large special effects sequences or big set pieces. The film builds a fair amount of tension, and is even downright scary at times, and that is largely accomplished via fairly old-fashioned filmmaking techniques, including frequently relying on the viewer’s imagination to fill in what isn’t shown directly. Score composer Mark Snow (who also scored the entire TV series and the previous film) again contributes greatly to the tension and overall mood of the film.
The scale of the film is small enough that I could see a pretty good argument being made that perhaps they should have done this as a TV movie instead of a theatrical release. They did largely ignore the conventional wisdom that a feature film requires a story that is much grander and larger in scope than the typical TV episodes. The longer running time of the film does provide room for more story development at a more leisurely pace. I suspect that will may find the film a bit slow as it doesn’t have the rapid cutting and frequent action sequences that are typical of most summer thrillers. The pacing of this film is actually quite a bit slower even in comparison to the first "X-Files" film. The film does also benefit from some effective use of the full wide-screen frame, particularly during a few key sequences set in snow-covered fields as well as during one very well-shot foot chase. I also think that the somewhat complex and dialog-driven nature of the movie was well served from the generally stronger focus given to a movie in a theater than with the usual distractions of a TV viewing.