Studio: Well Go USA
Director: Richie Mehta
Writer: Richie Mehta
Producer: Lee Kim
Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Gillian Anderson, Rufus Sewell, John Paul Ruttan, Susanna Fournier, Sherry Miller, Victor Garber
Devastated by the sudden disappearance of his father as a child, a gifted science student grows up to discover that the event may have been linked to time travel.
Labeling “I’ll Follow You Down” as a “time travel thriller” sets a certain expectation for action-oriented suspense that is genetically excluded from the movie’s DNA. “I’ll Follow You Down” is intriguing not as Saturday matinee science-fiction, but as a metaphor about consequences that come from living a life of unbalanced commitments and conflicted goals.
What does that mean exactly? It means that there are no good guys and bad guys arguing over flapping butterfly wings or high stakes consequences about killing dictators in their infancy. “I’ll Follow You Down” is more melodrama than mystery with only a slightly futuristic touch to springboard an exploration of themes regarding the worth of idealistic values.
In the year 2000, theoretical researcher Gabriel Whyte says goodbye to his wife Marika and his nine-year-old son Erol as he leaves for a three-day visit to Princeton University. No one ever sees him again. By 2012, Erol has grown into a gifted young scientist himself and goes on to a relationship with his childhood sweetheart Grace. Meanwhile, Marika still grieves for her lost love with a regular cocktail of prescription pills and persistent depression.
When tragedy continues striking at what remains of the Whyte family, Erol’s university professor grandfather Sal posits a possible solution. Having discovered Gabe’s research secreted away in a dim basement, Sal comes to believe that Gabe neither died nor disappeared. He went back in time to visit Albert Einstein in 1946. As crazy as that sounds, Sal needs Erol’s mathematical mind to puzzle out the physics involved in recreating the wormhole experiment and bringing Gabe back to change the present.
If that setup sounds like it veers into heady territory of quantum conundrums, worry not. While dialogue occasionally indulges in Greek-like techno-babble, it is only a momentary distraction to make the science sound meaningful. Understanding the “how” of its time travel premise is the least critical element required for tuning into what “I’ll Follow You Down” has to say. This is not the type of era-hopping epic necessitating close attention to nitty gritty details about ripple effects and alternate timelines in order to mentally keep pace with twists and turns.
Devoid of intent to confuse or to dazzle by being too smart for its own good, “I’ll Follow You Down” has a straightforward storytelling purpose in mind. Erol’s girlfriend Grace wonders, if Erol affects the present by “correcting” the past, can he guarantee they will end up together in an altered timeline? Is risking what he has now worth pursuing the uncertainty of how he assumes things “should” be? It is the same internal conflict that consumed Erol’s father. And that seesaw battle between advancing a personal goal versus honoring obligations has an impact neither man fully considers.
One could describe the film as a drama about family masquerading as a sci-fi mystery, but that is an illusion the film itself does not personally propagate. Anyone going in under the assumption of seeing an extravagantly designed “time travel thriller” may be disappointed to discover that “I’ll Follow You Down” is more quietly introspective.
Like many time travel stories, the script asks viewers to close their eyes and hum during certain scenes. A key detail involves a newspaper clipping from 1946 showing a dead man from behind in possession of the Whyte family pocket watch. It is dubious that a news story about an unidentified man would specifically not show the man’s face and of course, if the photo did, the entire plotline would go up in a smoke. It is just one of those necessary conveniences that a story like this has to cheat in order to make things work.
Other clichés vary in how forgivable they are. Frankly, the ending is too abrupt to be fully satisfying, even though it absolutely works story-wise as a sensible resolution. Victor Garber’s grandfather character has a go-nowhere subplot involving a possible romance with his tea-fetching secretary while Erol and his girlfriend enjoy a Hollywood-fabricated childhood courtship, albeit a very cute one. (It takes a black heart to not smile over the Lego car, no matter how contrived it is as a plot device.)
“I’ll Follow You Down” wins back a great deal of those lost points through pure star power alone. The scope of the story may not be grand, but the cast certainly is. The film is filled with familiar faces that may not be as prolific as they were in years past, but they are no less talented than they have always been. Erol’s mother calls for an actress who can say more with a look than with a word, making Gillian Anderson a fitting choice for the part. Haley Joel Osment is superbly solid in a mild-mannered role. Anything less than exceptional casting and the film’s faults would be harder to overlook, but the reliable talent roster ensures an engaging watch.
The movie succeeds because of its cast, but also because its core concept is so strong. Weighing the benefits of accepting what cannot be changed versus chasing an ideal only presumed to be preferable is presented as a relatable idea using science-fiction as a frame for entertainment. Ultimately, it is this unique approach to a traditional time travel dilemma that makes “I’ll Follow You Down” absorbing as a thoughtful thriller.
Review Score: 85