YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT, the latest film from writer/director David Koepp (Stir of Echoes), based on the novel by best-selling German author Daniel Kehlmann, centers around a family who travel to a remote house in Wales only to encounter a terrifying supernatural experience that could tear them all apart. The film reunites Koepp with Stir of Echo‘s actor Kevin Bacon, as well as the talents of Amanda Seyfried and newcomer Avery Essex. To best describe the film, I’ll turn to the official synopsis:
“Theo Conroy (Kevin Bacon) is a successful middle-aged man whose marriage to his much younger wife, Susanna (Amanda Seyfried) is shredding at the seams, frayed by her secretiveness, his jealousy, and the shadow of his past. In an effort to repair their relationship, Theo and Susanna book a vacation at a stunning, remote modern home in the Welsh countryside for themselves and their six-year-old daughter, Ella (Avery Essex). What a first seems like a perfect retreat distorts into a perfect nightmare when Theo’s grasp on reality begins to unravel and he suspects that a sinister force within the house knows more than he or Susanna have revealed, even to each other.” (Universal/Blumhouse)
At its core, YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT is about a marriage that was always doomed from the start. However, the deeper into the story the viewer goes, the more insidious aspects of the film begin to bubble to the surface. What’s great about this movie is that for the most part, the horror is bathed in daylight hours. Everything is brightly lit inside the cavernous house that it gives off a false sense of comfort that everything is going to be okay. A security blanket, in a way, that nothing bad could happen during the day (something we all know isn’t true). By the time the viewer eventually catches on to what’s happening, it’s already too late. Personally, I like being caught off guard because it’s during those times that I find myself the most scared.
From a visual standpoint, YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT is stunning. The house that the Conroy family stays at is breathtaking in its modern design, large windows, and ample space. But it’s the feeling of coolness and detachment that envelopes the house early on which makes it so chilling. In a way, I felt as though the house was a perfect analogy for Theo and Susanna’s marriage. Both are distant and cold with secrets tucked away in the darkest of corners. Furthermore, the house offers a variety of complex design elements that could easily confuse and befuddle all that stay there. My favorite aspect of this house, though, was definitely the contrast between the sharp angles of the design to that of the lush landscape of the Welsh countryside. The juxtaposition between the two only helped solidify my theory that duality reigns supreme in this film.
As a fan of David Koepp’s 1999 horror/thriller Stir of Echoes, I was excited that Koepp would be reuniting once again with Kevin Bacon. Like usual, Bacon gives a hell of a performance, though I couldn’t help but sense he seemed… tired. He didn’t have that same spark that I’ve come to love with his other roles. That said, he still gives a strong physical performance as we watch his character fall down the rabbit hole of secrets within the house. Amanda Seyfried‘s portrayal of Susanna was fascinating in regards to how distant she was – it was as though she was just out of reach from anyone getting too close. There is not much warmth to her character which I can imagine was intentional. As for Avery Essex, in her feature film debut, what a star in the making. Even at such a young age, it’s clear that she is a powerhouse performer and can easily hold her own against the talents of Bacon and Seyfried. As a family unit, the group meshed together fairly well, and I’ll even go so far as to give a special nod to the storyline that featured a touching father/daughter bond between Theo (Bacon) and Ella (Essex).
Prior to seeing this film, I did not read the book in which it is based off. However, my interest has definitely piqued having now watched the film. Though I did like a lot of aspects of this movie, I did have some concerns with how the film was written for the screen. The large gap in age between Theo/Susanna left me feeling… off. It’s definitely something that is addressed multiple times, either verbally or non-verbally, and I do believe it adds to the creepiness of the movie, but… is it really a storyline that we need in 2020? I’m sure many would support it as a way to elevate the eeriness of the entire film but… I don’t know, it just felt beside the point. I also think that a lot of the unfolding secrets had an air of predictability to them. I guess for me, as a person who loves watching horror films, I wanted there to be more meat on the bones. Sure, there was a slew of successful jump scares that got me jumping out of my chair, but it felt like a missed opportunity to really explore the psyche of not only Theo but also of the house.
Being trapped inside a house is something we can all relate to as we navigate through the worldwide pandemic that is COVID-19. There are real fears that this film touches upon that many of us have at one point or another experienced. Isolation, jealousy, forgiveness, redemption, themes that are woven into the fabric of this story and our lives. David Koepp does a fantastic job of bringing these themes to the forefront through the use of camera tricks, fragmented shots, shadows, and mirrors. If you pay close enough attention and follow the bread crumbs, you can see, in a way, the story coming together long before our characters do.
Overall, the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT. It may not be reinventing the wheel, but it does a good job of preying on our fears of isolation, distrust, and insanity. It’s an enjoyable rabbit hole to go down even if it feels predictable at times. Additionally, it succeeds in giving viewers a few good jump scares while maintaining a sense of discomfort throughout its 90 min runtime. Even with its flaws, I think viewers will find a lot to enjoy with YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT. Check it out when it’s released On Demand everywhere, June 18, 2020.
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