Tony Black looks at the twelfth story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, ‘Kanashibari’…
Written by Ryan Cady
Edited by Jonathan Maberry
Now here’s an urban myth I’ve heard of before – the Kanashibari, a terrifying Japanese folk tale of an old hag who haunts the dreams of people in what would be referred to as night terrors. Ryan Cady captures the concept of such a creature well in ‘Kanashibari’, the twelfth story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas, clouding the very notion of what reality means in terms of the dream world and how potentially said unconscious can hurt us in the real world. In that sense it beats similarities with Season 2’s ‘Sleepless’, but tonally and in terms of atmosphere shares as much in common with Ringu and other Japanese horror tales. Cady manages to craft a solid tale which remains, to a degree, open to interpretation.
You see it’s never quite clear whether we’re dealing here with a genuinely supernatural occurrence, a terrifyingly described ‘Old Hag’ with a shock of hair and white face which creeps onto and attacks you while you sleep, or a chemically induced series of hallucinations tapping into that fear response within REM sleep, and Cady does a very good job of letting Scully have as strong an explanation for what’s happening here as Mulder himself does, he quick to leap to the fact a spiritual evil presence is lurking beyond the dream world.
Whether or not the Kanashibari is real, Cady manages to craft some genuinely unsettling moments for Mulder & Scully as they are assailed by terrifying dreams, in strongest written parts of the story; the whole piece is less effective when dabbling in the supporting Japanese father/son difficulties in Los Angeles, though Cady nicely suggests the City of Angels isn’t quite as glorious as it seems, given how Scully reacts to the heat in November. It has nice incidental touches.
What ‘Kanashibari’ also has going for it is, arguably, the best final scene in Secret Agendas, as Ryan Cady weaves a wonderful little stinger at the end, just when you think everything has been relatively wrapped up in a neat little bow. It leaves you going ‘ooooh’ in the best tradition of The X-Files, in a way not every story in this anthology has done. It deserves applause for that and some evocative writing along the way.
Look out for our exclusive interview with Ryan Cady about his story later this week.
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