Follow Me...


Welcome to another one of my obtusely themed articles!  This time, I have two movies with similar titles that include the word "follow" but as it turns out, they share more in common than that.  Both films explore themes of family, loss and grief,using fantastical story devices (haunting & time travel) as conduits for that exploration.  There are other similarities, but I'm disinclined to expose all of them at this juncture.  Follow along, won't you?

I Will Follow You Into The Dark - 2012
Written & Directed by Mark Edwin Robinson

Sophia (Mischa Barton) is a young woman who has lost both of her parents within six months of each other.  Oh his death bed, her father, heretofore a religious man, declaimed all his faith in God and the afterlife.  Sophia picks up that sense of hurt and spite and adds it to her own jaded skepticism, causing a minor scene at his funeral, and carrying a sense of hopelessness with her into her life in the months following that loss.  She (or perhaps just the movie) assumes that, if everything dies, and everyone we love will one day leave us, then what's the use of making connections?  Now, you and I both know that, if everything dies and everyone we love will one day be lost, we should want to make the most of the time we have, but this is a movie that has other things it wants to say about that.

Six months into her self-imposed emotional exile, she meet-cutes a guy who challenges her desire to remain cut-off from others.  At this point, the movie becomes a fairly tolerable romance.  Sophia resists the urge and won't return calls, but when strange things start happening to her and she finds herself needing the comfort of another, it's Adam (Ryan Eggold) to whom she turns.  While their relationship comes up to a simmer, we're also getting the groundwork for a ghost story.  Adam's apartment building was once a hospital, and the top floors were where patients were essentially left to die.  In retrospect, the back-story doesn't really track, but I'm not sure it needs to.  I Will Follow You Into The Dark isn't quite so much a ghost story as a film that uses a ghost story (and genre tropes) to accomplish something else.  We've seen plenty of movies before about haunted hospitals (and former hospitals) in the past that, when it comes up here, we just kind of go "Oh, okay, I've been here before and I know what goes with this situation."

When Sophia finally lets herself fall for Adam, she can see their future unfolding in front of her.  They take the first few steps into their life together, when, suddenly, Adam is gone.  She awakens in his bed to find blood where he should be.  She and Adam's roommate follow a trail of blood up to the off-limits haunted top floors of the building; blood that the police cannot find.  So they, along with Sophia's roommate and the woman he's dating take it upon themselves to find Adam, dead or alive, wherever he might be.  At this point, the movie plays the part of a fairly standard haunted hospital tale.  There's a good reason why there are so many haunted hospital movies.  They're damned spooky, and we get some decent chills here.  Unfortunately, it tries to do more with its ghost story than it's prepared to resolve sufficiently.  I'm not sure that the filmmakers really intended to resolve the ghost story, however, because in the end, the only thing that gets tied up is the romance, and Sophia's hopeless skepticism.

I think a lot of people will be prone to mistaking I Will Follow You Into The Dark for a straight horror story, when that doesn't seem to really match its actions.  The horror is too inadequately developed to be taken seriously as a contender in that arena.  Ultimately, it serves the story about love and faith.  The problem with the story about faith is that it hinges on some kind of false assumptions about people who don't specifically believe in a particular brand of afterlife.  Maybe that's just my own personal gripe and I'm not allowing the filmmakers to create their own world with their own rules.  In that context, the romance actually kind of works, and there's a connection that ties their first kiss to their final outcome.  If I go along with that, shutting out the part of me that watches horror movies and the part of me that ponders the more delicate points of cosmology and belief, then what's left is a romance that actually kind of appeals to me in my sweet and soppy places.

The much-maligned Mischa Barton is pretty good here, and Ryan Eggold is believably charming as the feet-sweeper-offer.

I'll Follow You Down - 2013
Written & Directed by Richie Mehta

Like the last movie, I'll Follow You Down deals heavily in themes of family, love and loss.  Instead of using underdeveloped supernatural tropes, however, it uses better developed science-fiction; specifically time travel.  I wrote recently about Frequencies, and how it seemed to be a part of an anomalous blip (along with About Time and Her...) of films in 2013 that used sci-fi conceits to deal with similar themes, and this would be another fair addition to that pack.  It's very similar to About Time as a set of keywords, but the execution goes of entirely in its own direction.

When Erol was a child, his father Gabe (Rufus Sewell) disappeared while attending a science conference at Princeton University, leaving not a trace.  His mother (Gillian Anderson) never quite recovered from the loss and uncertainty.  As he grew older, Erol (Haley Joel Osment, all growed up) found himself with a gift for physics, like his father, and grew into a relationship with the actual girl-next-door.  As a grad student with an almost Will Hunting-like knack for the mathematics of physics, he's approached by his grandfather (Victor Garber) who also happens to be a physics whiz.  Grandfather Sal enlists his assistance to continue some of the work that Erol's father had been doing before his disappearance; unlocking the secrets of time travel.

Erol and Sal become convinced that Gabe did indeed figure it out, and traveled to the past, becoming trapped (or dead) in 1944.  The real conflicts in the story come not from the puzzling out of the science, but the ethical, and far more personal questions raised by the potential of time travel.  If Erol can go back and save his father, thus rewriting the timeline, what will be lost?  As he becomes more and more obsessed, even addicted to the pursuit of this great knowledge, Erol must also figure out what it will take to break his father's own addiction to it at a time when he'll be flying high on the success of proving that knowledge.

All the issues become compounded when Erol's fiancee starts to figure out what he's considering.  She sees how the obsession has taken him, and she finally starts to consider the implications of having their timeline rewritten -- especially once she becomes pregnant.  What happens to them, to their relationship, to their child, when their lives are changed in childhood?  What happens in this timeline as a result of trying to save it?  Where About Time took a much more lyrical approach to many of the same themes and questions, I'll Follow You Down plays them for drama.  It does give the questions a more palpable tension, and the whole thing is structured more like a thriller than anything else.  Without (hopefully) giving too much away, the ending, while essentially a "happy" one, was also disturbing, and left me with a sense of ill-ease that lasted into the next day.  That's not a complaint.  That's an effectively delivered emotional punch.

I'll Follow You Down uses a sci-fi conceit, but it isn't about the sci-fi.  It's about the people, and the things that they've gone through and the choices they've made as a result of this one incident, and as they approach the nest potential incident.  The performances were strong and supported the human drama well.  Gillian Anderson conveyed a sense of emotional fragility that allowed her character's choices to still startle, but not surprise.  Haley Joel Osment, it turns out, can play adult roles.  I'm not sure he'll ever be the "star" he was as a child, but he'll give good things to the movies he's in.

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