Directed By David Koepp
Starring – Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, Avery Tiiu Essex
The Plot – Theo Conroy (Bacon) is a successful middle-aged man whose marriage to his much younger actress wife, Susanna (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 (Essex). What at 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.
Rated R for some violence, disturbing images, sexual content and adult language
– Great advertising. First and foremost, this is a film that escaped the realm of marketing spoilers in an age where every film is subject to at least a few per trailer or plot synopsis. In the one I listed above, I can confidently tell you that anything contained in this screenplay isn’t even remotely revealed in such a summary, leaving you unprepared for the ride you’re about to take with a family undertaking surreal consequences to their around the world vacation. I tip my hat any time a movie’s marketing appeal can competently lure you into the world that it advertises, all the while saving the best surprises as gifts for the audience who have remained faithful through 88 minutes of psychological warfare that unravels like the most effective onion at your subconscious. Watch the trailer as much as you want, but “You Should Have Left” is marketed all together as a completely different movie, and one that I’m surprisingly thankful that we didn’t receive.
– Suffocating atmosphere. Similar to the way a horror movie breeds ominous circumstance surrounding the monsters and unstoppable forces that exist within their realms, this film too harvest anxiety in the form of a deconstructive family narrative that gets worse with each passing minute. The silence within this luxurious vacation home in Wales is enough on its own to cut the tension with a knife, but when you have no shortage of combustible elements churning together with expressive reactions each time, it leads to experiences that we as an audience feel like we shouldn’t be given access to. The vulnerability that is so candidly illustrated through the screenplay’s mostly subtle exposition dives goes a long way in maximizing the urgency of what they’re locked inside with, but it’s ultimately the investment into the leads that will decide your fate, and whether or not this is a narrative that you can intriguingly indulge in.
– Attenuate special effects. There’s much to be adored to the computer generation tricks that the movie sparingly deposits during the most spontaneous of involvements. Similar to something like Netflix’s “Haunting of Hill House”, which often played tricks with the audience minds with its creepy use of shadowplay in the background of scenes, so too does this movie within the realm of mirrors. It all emanates in a blink-and-you-might-miss-it mentality, in that often its distortion of reflections or delayed movements are often only for the audience paying deep attention at home, sliding by in a way that may require frequent rewinds to catch the trick. Subtlety in production is a selfless act if it doesn’t require obviousness to enhance its appearance, and in a movie with very little frights, the necessity for mental instability is where the movie finds its comfort zone.
– Clever pasting. This is easily one of the best edited horror movies that I have seen in quite sometime, and the reason for such is the bending of time that attains an almost paranormal quality for something as routine as two scenes cut together. This is seen through our focus on a clock that violently shifts through many hours throughout the night, diverting reality in a way that feels almost insomniatic. Likewise, the consistency in speed occasionally shifts during scenes when the house is often getting the better of Bacon, creating a repetition that in turn preserves a mental instability within him that we can accurately convey because of such sharp visual storytelling. In a movie this psychologically straining, a brilliant editing device is our greatest tool in deciphering what is so cryptically unknown, and thanks to the movie’s exceptional production qualities for a budget so bare, they are the gauge that articulately conveys what we the audience cannot.
– Isolated setting. This is key in a movie where 90 percent of its entirety takes place inside, and thanks to some unique distortions of reality established, we get a home that envelopes the profound nature of haunted houses in horror movies. For my money, it’s the abstract personality in the house, serving as a clean slate that relays anything is possible within its walls, that chilled me to the core, and really made this a difficult task to decipher when understanding what kind of movie this was going to turn out to be. The claustrophobia enveloped during unnervingly narrow sequences of hallways stretched proximity, feeding towards the house feeling like a living, breathing antagonist to the family’s plight. It’s all capped off with a contemporary design in its general outline that directly contradicts its Wales placement, but adds to the story once you understand how all of the pieces fit.
– Evolving screenplay. As I said before, this movie is anything but how you interpret it in its marketing, and when you dig beneath its surface level approach there’s no shortage of depth to sell its poignancy through some heavy hitting material. Most of the thematic pulse that I got from the film centers around coming to terms with the things we regret, and how past traumas can influence current nightmares. This is a little more than I expected to get from a Blumhouse horror movie, but cements the status as one of those horror films that are the most terrifying because of their real life circumstances, proving that the biggest monsters are often the ones that we create internally that eats away at our subconscious. It alludes to something we all can relate to in one way or another, making it all the more accessibly inviting because of its surprisingly humanistic approach that adapts to the story’s evolution.
– Lack of scares. This wasn’t a big deal to me, but can be a red flag for people who watch horror films for escapism to be scared. Where it hurts is the pacing, especially during the film’s first two acts, where there’s very few moments of suspense or anxiety for a movie that takes a little longer to find its feet towards originality. It makes so much of the set-up feel like the worst kind of slow-burn where we wait for something, anything to reaffirm our commitment to the film, eventually appearing later on, but a little longer than I would’ve preferred. Even with where the film heads in its twisting second half, the film could still afford to prescribe more than a few illusions to throw the audience off of its path, and tease this gimmick in a way that colorfully illustrates the fire burning inside of Theo’s registry.
– Too many cliches. Unfortunately, for a movie that breaks a lot of conventions in the twists and turns of its narrative, it can’t escape the distinguishing tropes of the genre that are becoming commonplace in contemporary horror. An abundance of jump scares, a couple of red herring dream sequences, and tonally contradicting humor that comes in during the worst times, are just a few of the examples that persist within the movie that lowered its overall appeal for me. Like I said, these are expected anymore as much as bad acting or stupid decision making in horror movies, but just because that’s a fact it doesn’t mean that I like to see it, especially during a time when horror is adapting its identity to different reaches of family trauma never before explored. They are the antagonizing presence in my favorite genre of film, and something I wish would move out of frame with the subgenre trends that switch in and out of the genre.
– Forgettably bland performances. This is the second straight horror movie with mundane work from its exceptionally talented cast, and a lot of it has to do with what little is asked from each of them. Seyfried is virtually wasted. Her name serving no purpose for anything other than marketing this with a big screen appeal to audiences. She’s in the film for about fifty minutes, and vanishes completely, leaving us with nothing more than the bitchy, morally questionable female lead who we were asked to endorse. No thank you. Bacon is slightly better because he’s on camera for the entirety, but there’s nothing in his performance that even remotely touched the mental unraveling of Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” or John Cusack in “1408”, two films that this one reminded me of on more than one occasion. Bacon kind of goes through the motions and phones his performance in, and it’s a shame because the role could’ve allowed a new generation of horror enthusiasts to see his underrated registry. But unfortunately we get no tears for the trauma.
– Hit and miss twist. I don’t want anyone to think that I hated the movie’s third act twist. It was the thing that elevated the novel of the same name for me, and solidified it and the movie’s depth for feeling like anything other than just another haunted house movie. My problems stem from the clumsy and contradicting the more you start to think about past scenes involving other characters, and where they fit within this newfound gimmick. The more you think about it, the more certain things don’t add up, and even with a climax that nearly brought tears to my eyes, the sentimentality of such is taken away with several leaps of logic that don’t quite reach the bridge of continuity towards tying them all together.
My Grade: 6/10 or C