Erol was just a boy when his father, Gabe (Rufus Sewell), left for a conference at Princeton and was never seen again. His ID and cell phone were found in his hotel room, but no evidence of his whereabouts was ever found. Twelve years later the now adult Erol (Haley Joel Osment) has followed in his father’s footsteps with an interest in theoretical physics, but his mother’s (Gillian Anderson) fragile state leads him to turn down overtures from far-away universities like M.I.T. He’s afraid to leave her behind as the pain and mystery of his father’s disappearance has already led her to two suicide attempts.
Erol’s grandfather Sal (Victor Garber) meanwhile has dealt with the loss by burying himself in his work as a professor but also by digging into his son-in-law’s left behind research. It seems Gabe was working on a time travel experiment before his disappearance. Sal shares the information with Erol with the hope that the younger man can help recreate the experiment and possibly bring Gabe home. Erol’s doubts and concerns over all that could go wrong lead him to refuse his grandfather’s request, but when tragedy strikes he decides it may be the only option for his family to be whole again.
I’ll Follow You Down is a family drama about the damage we do, intentional or otherwise, to our loved ones now and in the next generation… especially when time travel is involved.
The past twelve years haven’t been easy on Erol as he’s been dealing with more than just a distraught mother on a roller coaster of medication and therapy. He’s intelligent, highly so, but he’s also become a man who lacks confidence and constantly fears that he’ll lose the people around him. His girlfriend Grace (Susanna Fournier) has been his best friend since his dad’s disappearance all those years ago, but the life that the two are planning together concerns him more than it excites him. When the opportunity arises to restore his family and make himself a better man he’s forced to decide if trying to fix the past is worth risking what he already has in the present.
Writer/director Richie Mehta‘s film uses time travel as a doorway into discussing ideas and themes about the importance of family in our lives. Using science fiction as a jumping-off point for serious, real-world observations and conversations is nothing new, and it’s actually one of the genre’s best uses, but it’s unclear here how entrenched Mehta is in his own message.
The film raises some interesting questions as to what Erol should expect from his planned interruption with the past, but while he and Sal find themselves in agreement it’s Grace who sees through the scientific accomplishment and daddy issues to the heart of the issue. What happens to them she wonders, to her and Erol and their love, and to the family of their own they’re hoping to bring into the world? It’s an idea touched briefly upon in last year’s About Time, but here it feels weightier and fascinating and–never mind. Mehta tosses the idea aside like a candy wrapper in favor of a third act that trades away substance for theorized suspense.
At least the story retains (for a bit longer anyway) the core idea of Erol’s immediate family and what he sees as the main cause of his problems. The idea of blaming your parents for your own issues has been around since the first child decided to dodge self-responsibility and lay his troubles at his parents’ feet, and the idea of using time travel not for some grand gesture but instead to simply make your own life better is intriguing. Erol as a protagonist seems far more empathetic and likable than he actually is. The question though becomes is this intentional on Mehta’s part or is it unacknowledged? If the former then it’s a fairly fascinating progression.
Osment hasn’t been all that visible as an adult actor, but he proves himself more than capable here of being able to deliver when necessary. His acting chops as a kid in films like The Sixth Sense and A.I. weren’t flukes. The more established trio around him do equally fine work with their limited roles, and Anderson in particular displays a depth of emotion that makes her character’s loss palpable.
I’ll Follow You Down is a strong idea ensconced in a muted and occasionally muddled execution. It remains interesting up to the very end though thanks in large part to an engaging cast and the core conceit that time travel is an endlessly fascinating narrative concept. If only Mehta could go back in time to fix the missteps in his script before they even happened.
The Upside: Interesting setup; rare time travel film that takes the Earth’s movement through space into account; lead quartet is consists of appealing actors
The Downside: Plot execution lacks urgency or weight; the usual issues with time travel tales; third act fails to excite as it should; a certain action by Erol at the very end
On the Side: Haley Joel Osment’s upcoming films include the Entourage movie, Kevin Smith’s horror film Tusk and Max Landis’ feature directorial debut, Me Him Her.