In recent years, the horror genre made leaps and bounds in our contemporary cinematic climate. New, diverse and original movies have been stretching ideas of filmmaking and evolving audience expectations of what scary movies can really be. You Should Have Left emerged this summer as the newest horror film to not only crack the market, but also stand apart from the crowd. Is it worth your hard earned rental dollar? Well, here’s what you need to know.
You Should Have Left follows Theo Conroy (Kevin Bacon) who travels to a rural English village for a much needed vacation with his much younger, actress wife Susanna (Amanda Seyfried), and daughter Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex). However, as they settle into the monstrous country house, it quickly becomes clear there’s more to this place than meets the eye. I’m sorry, kids, but that’s all you’re getting. There will be no spoilers here. David Koepp directs the film from his own script.
From the outset, You Should Have Left emerges as a solid work of haunted house horror. Throughout the movie, much of the fright is built from the atmospheric and visual elements of the story. There’s lots of shadow play effectively integrated into the narrative which successfully produces a number of chill inducing moments. Meanwhile, as the story morphs a bit into the second act, the house becomes a tense maze of long corridors and doors which lead to nowhere. It’s somehow monstrous and claustrophobic all at once, creating a heck of horror setting.
Unfortunately, in a surprising bit of irony, the career screenwriter Koepp’s direction runs circles around his script. There are a number of moments throughout where the narrative stops cold, leaving the poor actors tasked with delivering some clunky exposition of the “People don’t talk like that!” variety. These scenes stop the story, leading to some mighty struggles with the pacing. While the movie clocks in at a largely breezy an hour and a half, there are scenes in the first and early second act which feel like a bit of a slog.
Meanwhile, the performances in the movie are strong all-around. Essex holds together the narrative, largely avoiding many of the, often annoying, horror movie kid tropes, all while serving as the heart of the movie. Though, it is disappointing that the script can’t give Seyfried’s Susanna more to do. The narrative lays some interesting and potentially complicated groundwork with her character, particularly in its frankness as it relates to their age difference and the unconventional nature of their relationship. Though, it is unfortunate that the script seems far more interested in Bacon’s take on the mysterious, but much less likable Theo.
Bacon is doing his darnedest to try and make this complicated man work. However, as the character is currently written and under Koepp’s direction, Theo is unlikable and at times feels more than a little toxic. While these elements make sense given the end of the movie, it doesn’t help craft Theo as a protagonist for the audience to become invested. His connection with daughter Ella never quite gels, so when the two are left alone together, there’s as much concern for the child due to her father than the unseen forces in the house.
At the same time, in a horror climate which has of late produced such interesting and unique films as A Quiet Place and US, You Should Have Left instead has all the markings of the horror movies we’ve seen before all mashed into one. In fact, as someone who tends to not be able to predict plot lines, when I found myself guessing a rather substantial plot line after watching only the trailer, I’ll admit to being disappointed.
Ultimately, You Should Have Left is for better or worse, a purely fine movie. There are plenty of scares in the serviceably tense mood, but there is very little groundbreaking work being done here. Fans of haunted house horror or these actors might find this one an entertaining viewing, but most are probably best served waiting for streaming.
You Should Have Left is now available for OnDemand rentals.