Premiering in July 2013 at the Fantasia International Film Festival as I’ll Follow You Down, it’s been a long road for writer/director Richie Mehta’s third feature, finally released straight to DVD retitled as Continuum, a title which is not in any way more descriptive or evocative yet is more likely to lead to confusion with the ongoing television series of the same title starring Rachel Nichols, also with a premise based on time travel.
In the year 2000, Gabriel (Dark City‘s Rufus Sewell) took a flight from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport to Newark’s Liberty International Airport, there to attend the Relativistic Dynamics Conference at Princeton University, leaving behind his wife Marika (The X-Files‘ Gillian Anderson) and a half-finished game of chess he had been playing with his young son Erol, to be completed upon his return two days later.
Marika and Erol await at the arrival gate, but Gabriel does not appear; Marika calls her father Sal (Victor Garber of The Flash) in New York who confirms they met but Gabriel failed to show up for their lunch date the following day, though knowing how consumed Gabriel is with his work he thought nothing further of it. The hotel advise his luggage is still in his room, but he has not checked out. The police are notified, but there is no trace of him, nor any reason for him to have left that his family can conceive.
Twelve years pass; like his father, Erol (now played by Hayley Joel Osment, star of The Sixth Sense and A.I. Artificial Intelligence) is now studying advanced physics, the genius in the family overcompensating for the gaping hole in his childhood. In that, he has coped better than his mother, still unable to comprehend why her husband never returned to his family, still in therapy, still prescribed medication she does not wish to take.
It is Erol’s grandfather Sal, also his physics professor, who tells him of the discovery of a set of crates in a basement at Princeton, apparently there since 1946, the contents of which bear hallmarks of Gabriel’s work. He theorises that Gabriel managed to stabilise a traversible wormhole, that he paid a visit to the past to meet Albert Einstein, but that his intention to return seamlessly to the present was interrupted. If he and Erol were to be able to duplicate that research, they could similarly step back and realign the past as it should have been.
Having previously helmed two primarily Hindi language dramas, the step into science fiction is a bold one for Mehta and not entirely successful, the physics sitting uncomfortably alongside the parallel family drama of separation and loss. With cutting edge research being indicated by montages accompanied by heavy handed plonky piano, it is a bargain basement Back to the Future, Erol resorting to drawing timelines on his walls rather than Doctor Brown’s blackboard, his time capsule more akin to Seth Brundle’s Telepod than a DeLorean though fortunately without any common housefly complications.
Stretched to more than ninety minutes, the film is overly talky without saying much, Anderson and Sewell little more than extended cameos, she effortless in the routine material, he seemingly baffled by his involvement in the production. Osment does his best to carry the film in his own underwritten role, but his key emotional connection to girl next door turned girlfriend Grace (Being Human‘s Susanna Fournier) lacks conviction.
The few stilted scenes in the past more resemble a cheap period drama than an actual bygone era, and the one interesting strand of the narrative, that the sole character who drives Erol to complete the research may have motives other than altruistic, comes to nothing, perhaps less of an intentional red herring written in the script than a performance choice by an actor who felt that someone had to push things along.
Deeply predictable and relying on uncanny coincidence (would a 1946 newspaper really print a photograph of an unidentified dead body which just happens to have Erol’s father’s favourite pocketwatch by its side?), it is only in the final moments it suddenly manages a surprise twist, a saving grace too late. Both science and science fiction, it is apparent, are better left to the experts.
Continuum is available on DVD from Monday 16th March