I’ll Follow You Down is an overlooked gem from 2014, out of Canada. A low-budget science fiction film without special effects, it enjoyed only limited release until consigned to Netflix. This is unfortunate, as it is a nice effort from Canadian-born director Richie Mehta.
Having grown up on the written science fiction of Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, Roger Zelazny and Larry Niven, I generally have different standards for rating SF movies. In fact, my standards are much lower, as I have come to expect that most movies in this genre are slickly designed action films with lots of explosions and plot holes through which you can pilot a Death Star.
To me, a good SF movie should be one which, if reduced to writing, would have been published in Analog, Asimov’s Science Fiction or the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I’ll Follow You Down would have its place in one of those digests.
It is a time travel story told without evil Nazi villains, explosions or a timer counting down to zero. Rather, it is a story of loss and consequences.
Physicist Gabriel, played by Rufus Sewell, disappears on a trip to Princeton in 2000. The last time his wife, Marika, performed to perfection by Gillian Anderson (“X-Files”) and son Erol see him is when they say goodbye to him at the airport.
Twelve years later, Anderson’s character is a brittle and fragile person who cannot move on. It would be one thing for Gabriel to have died, and his body buried, but by disappearing without a trace, Marika merely doesn’t have closure, she has no answers. She is haunted by the thought that Gabriel left her and this is an idea with which she can’t cope with.
Anderson has tried for years to escape from her X-Files days as Scully. Because Scully didn’t allow her to demonstrate her dramatic range, she has never really been considered a serious actor. Her portrayal of Marika is deep, powerful and convincing. This movie should have set aside any doubts about her abilities.
Victor Garber from Alias and now as one half of Firestorm in Legends of Tomorrow, plays Marika’s father and former mentor of Gabriel. He has become convinced that his son-in-law traveled back in time creating an unnatural alternate reality. He tries to enlist Erol, now a directionless, physics graduate student to recreate Gabriel’s time machine.
At first, Garber plays Sal with his trademark professorial air of detachment. This renders his ability to accept time travel as somewhat preposterous. However, in a scene where he breaks down in the quiet of his office, his all too real motives are revealed. He is a father in pain, because his daughter is in pain. He cannot accept that Gabriel walked out because that thought is what has destroyed his daughter. To get her back, and “restore the time line” he must get Gabriel back.
The adult Erol is played by Haley Joel Osment. Like Anderson, he carries around the baggage of his first major role, the kid who sees dead people in The Sixth Sense. Osment’s Joel is brilliant but without conviction. He spends more time helping his girlfriend on her thesis then on his own work. He is also driven to care for his mother whose inability to fully care for herself has forced a reversal of the parent-child roles.
When grandfather Sal approaches Erol about the project, he is dismissive. He’s lost too much, and has latched upon the two women in his life as anchors. Without giving a spoiler, Erol does come to assist Sal. This leads to a confrontation with girlfriend Grace, played by Susanna Founrier. Where Sal is quietly obsessed with “fixing” the timeline, Grace is happy with things as they are. If Erol can bring his father back to the year 2000, then Grace says, their entire lives are erased and changed. Erol must choose between the void the loss his father created against the potential loss of never having Grace, the love of his life.
Science Fiction is good when it focuses on human beings, their relationships to each other, and to the technology which alters both. But it rises higher, when it uses these tools to make broader statements about the human condition.
I’ll Follow You Down, is, at its heart a story about love, loss and choice. Gabriel must choose between his dreams and his family. He told his wife that he could change the world and still be home for dinner. Yet, that is a balance that few ever achieve. Marika must choose between the life she wanted, and the life she must live. And Joel must choose between the past with his parents and his future.
While not a perfect film, and it can be slow and ponderous at times, it is a thoughtful and rewarding movie.