YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT (2020), the latest movie by prolific screenwriter David Koepp, who also directed, is much more a dark drama than a horror movie, as the genre stuff is all rather subdued.
Theo (Kevin Bacon) and his much younger wife Susanna (Amanda Seyfried) decide to vacation with their six year-old daughter Ella (Avery Essex) at a luxurious rental home in the Welsh countryside. And they decided they needed this getaway because things have been tense at home. Theo is dealing with events from his past, as years ago he was the subject of a high profile trial in which he was accused of murdering his wife. He was found innocent of the charges, but whenever he is recognized people seem to think he is guilty. Susanna is a very busy actress, and her schedule and frequent use of her phone stokes up feelings of jealousy in Theo.
It doesn’t take them long to discover that there’s something not quite right about the house. They all suffer vivid nightmares while there, Theo discovers seemingly endless hallways, and the dimensions of the house aren’t right, as rooms are larger on the inside than on the outside. Soon, Theo realizes that it’s almost as if the house summoned them, that it’s speaking to him and to his violent past, and that this violence may not yet be over.
As I said, YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT is much more a dark drama than a horror movie, and that’s because the horror elements never really take off. Early on, I found the story very intriguing. The dynamic of Theo’s and Susanna’s relationship held my interest, and once they get to the house, the stage is set for some weird stuff to start happening. But as this one progresses, not a lot happens. There are long scenes of Theo wandering through dark hallways, lots of hints and innuendos, but it takes forever for anything to really happen, and when it does, it’s subued and frankly, disappointing.
And that’s because the main mystery isn’t really all that impressive, and so when answers are revealed, it’s like, shoulder shrug. Okay. Well, tell me something I didn’t already suspect.
The screenplay by David Koepp, based on the novel by Daniel Kehlmann, works best early on when it is establishing the mystery. The story stalls midway through, and then the conclusion just doesn’t have any teeth. As I said, Koepp has lots of screenplays under his belt, including major films like INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008), SPIDER-MAN (2002), and JURASSIC PARK (1993). However, he’s also one of the writers involved in the Tom Cruise version of THE MUMMY (2017). I think he should try having his name removed from that disaster.
Koepp also directed YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT, and even though I didn’t feel the story held up, he does create some creepy scenes, a couple in particular involving mirrors. There’s also some sinister shadow use, and so visually, the film does have its moments, but none of them come together enough to lift this one to higher heights. Koepp also directed SECRET WINDOW (2004), the thriller starring Johnny Depp, based on the Stephen King novel.
Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried are both very good in the lead roles, although they don’t really generate much chemistry together, which is probably by design, since their marriage is in trouble. Bacon is cold and introspective as Theo, and you really do get the feeling he’s hiding something deep inside about his past. It’s been a little while since I’ve seen Bacon in a movie, and the last two times he played a federal law enforcement officer, in PATRIOTS DAY (2016) and BLACK MASS (2015).
Amanda Seyfried is excellent as the busy actress who seems to love her husband. Seyfried is no stranger to thrillers, having starred in GONE (2012), RED RIDING HOOD (2011), and CHLOE (2009).
In a key scene that serves as a snapshot of their relationship, Theo tries to visit his wife on set, but it’s a closed set, and he’s denied entrance, and so he has to wait outside. The scene is a sex scene, and he’s forced to listen to his wife act out having an orgasm multiple times. Afterwards she laughs it off. Theo stews.
And young Avery Essex is sufficiently cute and innocent as Ella, the young daughter stuck in the mess created by her parents. This is another weakness of the movie, however. Things really are never that messy. For the most part, their family life seems pretty good, and later, when Ella’s life is threatened, again, it’s all rather subdued. The film never becomes horrifying.
There were parts of this one that reminded me a little bit of the Daniel Craig horror movie DREAM HOUSE (2011), another haunted house thriller about a father harboring a deep dark secret. It was a film I didn’t like all that much. And I can’t say that I liked YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT all that much either.
YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT doesn’t really have much of a story to tell, and that’s its biggest problem. The acting is there, the creepy house is there, and the potential is there, but without much of a story, there simply isn’t much of a payoff.
This one may grab you if you’re in the right frame of mind, but it was much too subdued and predictable for my liking.
You should have left? Maybe you shouldn’t have started.