Synopsis: Strange events plague a couple and their young daughter when they rent a secluded countryside house that has a dark past.
Stars: Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, Avery Tiiu Essex
Director: David Koepp
Running Length: 93 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: Ever since movie theaters shut down in early April, there has been much discussion over the big summer blockbusters that have seen their release dates shuffled around or delayed indefinitely. Buzzed about franchise pictures set to make studios millions (billions, potentially) are now waiting in the wings, dependent on a vaccine for the virus that kept audiences in lockdown to emerge. Because, let’s be honest, no one really feels completely confident about heading into a enclosed space with a bunch of unknown factors still in play. I sure don’t, that’s for sure.
So instead of heading to the theaters this summer film fans have been doing their movie-going with their remotes and that’s been a boon to smaller films that might not have received the recognition had they had to compete with movies that had a bigger advertising budget. That’s why for a few weekends a month ago the smaller horror film The Wretched was the number one movie according to the limited figures available…it also helped that the indie fright flick was fairly decent. The other difference between a movie like The Wretched and the new thriller You Should Have Left is that The Wretched was likely always going to be a direct to streaming film while You Should Have Left had loftier plans from the start. The Blumhouse production shifted its release from theaters to On Demand and that plan will most certainly help overall, not just because far more people will see it due to a lack of other similar available content but I think it won’t be judged as harshly as it would have been as a theatrical offering.
Adapted by director David Koepp (Premium Rush) from a 2017 novella by German writer Daniel Kehlmann, You Should Have Left follows Theo Conroy (Kevin Bacon, Patriots Day), his actress wife Susanna (Amanda Seyfried, Scoob!) and their daughter Ella (Avery Essex) as they take a few weeks away from her busy filming schedule for a family retreat in Wales. Theo’s visit to Susanna’s set early on gives us an indication not only of his jealous side but also hints that he’s famous in his own right…and not for anything particularly pleasant. The house the family rents is nicely secluded and a wonder of modern design, with clean lines and confusing hallways that are easy to get turned around in. Right away, Theo can sense there’s something off but can’t quite figure out what’s amiss…and a strange visit into town with its peculiar townspeople doesn’t settle his paranoid nerves any.
As is often the case lately, the first hour of the movie contains some genuine interest and sincere head-scratching moments as Theo starts to unravel the longer he spends within the house. Is it related to his troubled past and has the dwelling awakened a sinister spirit out to reclaim something from him? Or is his long gestating lack of confidence in the sincerity of his much-younger wife bubbling to the surface at a most inopportune time? Basically…is he imagining the house is designed to confuse or has he managed to find a rental property built on top of the devil’s doorway?
If only Koepp could have kept up with the suspense, You Should Have Left might have been a nifty little film that truly delivered. As it stands, it winds up falling apart in short order and disappointingly so. Koepp has explored similar themes of isolation/seclusion like this in his previous films Secret Window from 2004 and 1996’s The Trigger Effect so this should be familiar territory to navigate for him. Maybe the problem is Koepp’s adaptation, which as far as I can tell added in cumbersome elements that seems to have taken Kehlmann’s original simplicity in storytelling and weighed it down with more emotional baggage. Adding that in complicates things and makes the movie accountable for explaining too much…about Theo, about Susanna, about the house and its origins. Though it’s handsomely made, it’s in that final half hour where precious little makes sense and Koepp loses control of what up until then had been a precise thriller.
It’s good, then, that we have Bacon on hand to sell what at times is a little hard to swallow. Bacon is such a dependable presence in even the smallest of roles, it’s nice to see him back in a leading role and re-teamed with Koepp after their superior effort, Stir of Echoes, in 1999. Even if the film starts to go off the rails, Bacon stays on track and resists the urge to overdo things. (It’s interesting to note, if the IMDb trivia page is to be believed, Nicolas Cage was originally attached to star – I can only imagine how he would have handled some of the twists of the final act.) I’m glad the script makes a pointed issue of the age discrepancy between Bacon and Seyfried, their 27-year age gap is very much a piece of the puzzle…though it is still awkward to imagine them as a couple.
For a weekend option, I can imagine that You Should Have Left would be a decent choice for those that have exhausted their Netflix and Amazon Prime queues and need a jolt of newer release. It’s better than a number of Blumhouse productions that have found their way to theaters and while it doesn’t stand up in competition to their slick update on The Invisible Man earlier this year, it’s watchable more often than not.