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I'll Follow You Down
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by Jay Seaver

"The emotion perhaps follows better than the story."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Science fiction writers have come up with dozens of ways for time travel to be a terrible idea, from rifts that can collapse the entire structure of the Universe to far-future AIs who will eradicate anything that might prevent their creation to a deterministic model of time in which there's no free will. Richie Mehta doesn't go with anything that elaborate, deciding that good old-fashioned emotional scarring will do the trick.

Not that anybody suspects that at first, when Gabe (Rufus Sewell) leaves Toronto for a conference on particle physics at Princeton. When he doesn't return, his wife Marika (Gillian Anderson) calls her father Sal (Victor Garber) - the professor Gabe studied under - only to have him find Gabe's hotel room empty and a strange, nonfunctional apparatus in his temporary workspace. Twelve years later, Marika is still devastated and their son Erol (Haley Joel Osment) is perhaps only superficially better, always late for class (which he can afford to be, instinctively brilliant as he is), spending all his time with his girlfriend Grace (Susanna Fournier), and passing on grad school at MIT. Sal, though, has finally cracked what Gabe was working on, and thinks he can make it work with Erol's help. They can fix things - although Grace isn't sure that can be done without side effects.

The choices at the center of I'll Follow You Down aren't terribly technical - Erol and Sal spend a lot of time writing on blackboards and building something, sure, but just doing math that the audience can't understand is not what holds them back. Butterfly-effect convolutions are there, as is the occasional talk of destiny and "how it should be", but in general, Mehta is using his science-fictional setting to create a metaphor for dealing with loss and uncertainty, along with knowing that one's life would be different or happier under other circumstances.

It's got a cast that is, by and large, up to that human story. Gillian Anderson initially plays Marika with the sort of even keel that doesn't so much suggest a tendency to break down but where that sort of collapse seems likely in retrospect, and she's impressively, heart-breakingly brittle in the present day. That's when Osment plays the one who appears to have things mostly under control - he does casual brilliance and quiet empathy very nicely - but is also spread thin enough that he gets a chance to do cracking well. Susanna Fournier is a pleasant pairing with him, even if it sometimes seems the young actors playing them as kids have more natural chemistry with even thinner material (and, no, I'm not sure which is stranger to me in 2013: A grown-up, bearded Osment or someone who doesn't really look like the kid in The Sixth Sense playing his ten-year-old self). Victor Garber shines as an affable, well-meaning man letting his obsession take over, and while Rufus Sewell doesn't quite attain "secret weapon" status, he's a bigger contributor than his brief appearance at the beginning suggests.

Mehta gives the cast room to work while finding interesting ways to equate time travel to other tragedy, although in some ways his lack of conventional sci-fi plotting can be a weakness - it's hard to get away with characters more or less saying "yeah, this bit doesn't really make sense, please ignore it". There's a segment in the middle of the movie where the characters seem to have the same arguments two or three times in a row, like he's not ready for the last act but doesn't have anything preventing him from getting there, so there's little to do but stall. Once he does get to the last act, though, some fairly nifty stuff happens, including an eye-widening finale. It could almost be pulled out and work as a good, self-contained short film, although what came before does add some emotional weight.

There's no doubt Mehta knows which emotional beats he wants "I'll Follow You Down" to hit, or that he finds interesting ways to use his metaphor. It does occasionally feel like it could use another rewrite or a more sure hand in the director's chair, but the parts that work and the solid cast make up for a number of shortcomings elsewhere.

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originally posted: 07/30/13 00:52:29
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Miami International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Miami International Film Festival series, click here.

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  06-Jun-2014 (NR)
  DVD: 05-Aug-2014



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