Opening with an incredibly disturbing sequence depicting a child being murdered on train tracks, The Calusari sees The X-Files tip its hat to the major works of 70’s cinema that centred around evil or possessed children and religion; The Exorcist and The Omen.
In fact, The Calusari has its cake and eats it by being a combination both those movies, featuring a plethora of imaginatively staged grisly set pieces where people die horribly and an exorcism at the end, although it does stop short of decapitating someone with a sheet of glass, although a garage door does get a horrifyingly effective use to make up for it.
The second, and last, contribution to the series by Sara B. Charno, whose previous script was Aubrey, an episode I absolutely adored, The Calusari is admittedly nowhere near as good as Aubrey. Whilst the latter was a beautifully crafted mystery, The Calusari is a much more gawdy horror piece; it is still an enjoyable forty five minutes of television, but compared to Aubrey it is a much more crass style of X-File.
Part of the problem I have with The Calusari is that in opening with such an intense and horrifying moment like the one it does with here, the episode ventures more into a brand of pulpy horror that doesn’t really earn the level of drama and intensity that comes with such a powerful opening. The imagery, the staging, Mark Snow’s music, the level of drama, for one brief moment it seems as if it’s going to give us something other than the well staged Exorcist/Omen homage that we get and for that there is a taste of disappointment that comes with it.
The episode that follow is, to an extent, good fun, or as fun as you can get with a forty-five minute episode of television that features the phrase Munchausen By Proxy, but even this gets to the heart of the major problem at the heart of the episode. Disengage your brain a little and it’s all darkly entertaining, and those set-pieces involving guest characters dying by malfunctioning garage doors and psychotic chickens are admittedly good fun, but when the episode touches on the themes that it does, with hints of child abuse, not to mention one of the victims that is killed being a child, then it really ought to be delivering more than it does.
Charno previously wrote a beautifully female-centric tale that touched on themes of motherhood and abuse, and here we have, once again, a lead female guest star whose dealings with the horror at the heart of the tale is centred around a pregnancy, or in this case one in which one of her twins was still-born. I think if the episode had the heart and intelligence of Aubrey then we would have on our hands another minor classic, as such it’s an entertaining slice of dark horror from the show that once again fits in nicely with the second season, although doesn’t quite have the convictions that it apparently sets itself out on from the opening sequence.
Helene Jackson puts in a brilliant performance as Maggie, and Joel Palmer, who previously appeared in Conduit as Kevin, is also wonderful as Charlie, who goes from being sympathetic one moment to downright chilling the next. The moment when Michael, Charlie’s dead twin, assumes Charlie’s identity to an unsuspecting Maggie and taunts her about going on the train is a superbly crafted moment, wonderfully subtle and really ought to have been maybe the style the episode went for.
What it does is go right for the jugular and do massively intense confrontations and an exorcism set-piece. It all does it pretty well, and both Maggie and Scully’s encounter with Michael is superbly staged making great use of a knife and dark-blue filters on the lighting, but it really feels as if it ought to have been much more considering how powerful its author’s previous hour on the show was.
It’s in the end a piece of hokum, entertaining hokum, but hokum that had the potential to be much, much more.