Synopsis – A former banker, his actress wife, and their spirited daughter book a vacation at an isolated modern home in the Welsh countryside where nothing is quite as it seems.
My Take – Cinephiles will instantly recognize the name David Koepp anywhere, after all he continues to be among the most successful screenwriters, whose credits over the past two decades includes commercial successes like the first two Jurassic Park films, the first Mission: Impossible, Snake Eyes (1998), Spider-Man (2002), Panic Room (2002), Steven Spielberg‘s War of the Worlds (2005) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) (and the upcoming Indiana Jones 5), among others.
But fascinatingly as a director, unlike most screenwriters who moved on to helming bigger sized projects, Koepp has remained attached to directing smaller features, with varying genres, that have often found modest (Premium Rush) to no success (The Trigger Effect). With his biggest film to date being, the Johnny Depp led Mortdecai (2015), which crashed and burned upon release.
But the biggest reason to celebrate this Blumhouse backed film is that it sees Koepp reunite with the very underrated Kevin Bacon (in his first film role since 2016’s Patriots Day), following 1999’s Stir of Echoes. The supernatural horror film, which took a box office beating mainly due its misfortune of being released only a month after the similarly themed The Sixth Sense, but has over time gained fame for being effectively chilling with a career-best performance from Bacon.
Here too, by working from a novella by German author Daniel Kehlmann, they make a fair combination in their return, as director Koepp even employs some similar stylistic choices and emotional themes that remind you of Stir of Echoes and his take on Secret Windows (2004).
The film, which debuted on VOD yesterday, following the cancellation of its initial theatrical release, contains a solid return from Kevin Bacon, and unlike most haunted house films, mostly emphasizes on the psychological aspects, which start with vivid nightmares even before the protagonist reach their destination, and then goes on to build the tension gradually to avoid the irritation that stems from people in horror films behaving irrationally.
Even though it manages to keep you enthralled for its 93 minute run time, its lack of fresh ideas and consistency does play spoilsport, hereby making it a decent yet scattered watch.
The story follows Theo Conroy (Kevin Bacon), a disgraced yet fabulously wealthy former banker who lives as a sort of pariah following a past incident that put his life and reputation in the spotlight in every horrible way possible. Though he is married to Susanna (Amanda Seyfried), a much younger and incredibly beautiful actress, and has a cute little daughter named Ella (Avery Essex), who dotes on him completely, Theo remains troubled by vivid nightmares, and constantly struggles with jealousy, anger, and insecurity about his relationship with Susanna.
While meditation and penning his journals does help him time to time, Susanna’s lighthearted digs about his age, and her constant need to use her phone, often keeps his passive-aggression dwindling. Naturally, in order to make things better, they decide to rent out a sprawling house located in the Welsh countryside, four miles from the nearest small village. But as soon as they settle in mysterious shadows begin to appear, lights go on and off, and everyone begins to have nightmares.
Yes, along with long hallways and moments of terror, answers are provided in the end, as well as comparisons to The Shining will be made. Though the frights are sparse, they definitely gets under your skin, at least it avoids using the same old haunted-house tropes where the inevitable confrontation involves a scraggly-looking ghost. While the film takes about 40 to 45 minutes for the protagonist to settle in, it eventually turns the the house, which almost looks like a parody of one of those film-friendly modern-architecture marvels that somehow looks enormously expensive and discomfiting to actually inhabit, into the main star as secrets are uncovered and the family becomes trapped in what seems like a carnival’s house of mirrors.
Doors appear and vanish, figures lurk in the shadows, and time is displaced. That’s especially true for Theo, who is plagued by nightmares and starts losing time when he wanders through the maze of blue-gray modernism. In a surprising turn of event, he and Susanna also quickly agree on not staying in the house beyond the point of reason. The house, however, may have other ideas about their expedient plan to get the hell out.
Personally I found the lead characters and their relationship dynamics more interesting than the plot, with its heavy emphasis on Theo’s tortured psyche. For example, in one of the films best scenes, Theo shows up to visit her on the set and they won’t let him in because he’s not on the list. In the background, Susanna is heard moaning and groaning while filming a sex scene. Theo gets embarrassed and later tells his wife that the guard wouldn’t let him on to the set because he recognized him from the news.
Obviously, Theo is paranoid that some people still hold him accountable for his first wife’s death. Their also a constant possibility in everything that we are seeing is being dreamed or imagined by Theo. However the story is slightly scattered and doesn’t always flow together in the slower middle section. Especially after it makes some clever suggestion that how Susanna comes off isn’t really her, but rather how Theo perceives her, but then resorts to focusing on some tiresome jump scares. The human drama, and the inability to hide from our true selves, is what makes this film work.
And by the end when things spiral into a bizarre and insane shocking conclusion, the revelations of the past are made, and it does come together more cohesively. It swung for the fences in the end and I do applaud its brutal honesty though many will critique it, even though, honestly, I did see the twist in it coming from a mile away.
Having Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried as the stars of your film also helps things a lot. Bacon remains intriguing as ever, and commands attention at all times. He’s the glue that holds the film together for sure. He’s ageless at this point and I hope he comes back for good after his 4 year hiatus. Seyfried is good, too. While playing the wife role in a horror thriller centered on a male character is often a thankless task, Seyfried steers away from the role’s tedium by emphasizing Susanna’s straightforward, and self-possessed qualities.
However, it was child-actress Avery Tiiu Essex‘s performance that blew me away the most, as she managed to share a likable chemistry with both Bacon and Seyfried, and remained charming till the end. On the whole, ‘You Should Have Left‘ is a decent yet scattered haunted house film with enough intensity to garner a watch.
Directed – David Koepp
Rated – R
Run Time – 93 minutes