You Should Have Left (2020)

“I just had a really bad dream.”

As is the case for most middling movies, there’s as much to like about You Should Have Left as there is to wag your finger at. It’s too familiar yet never lacks for ambitious tangents, even when they are inconclusive and half-witted. The story is on the nose but packs intense psychological punches. The scares work well and are too infrequent. Ultimately though, it’s too flawed for its own well being, making You Should Have Left another example of a movie whose broad reach greatly exceeds its intentionally small grip and exceedingly loose grasp on reality.

Appropriately creepy from the start, You Should Have Left stars Kevin Bacon as Theo, a wealthy retiree who once worked as a banker, and whose name carries with him the stains of his past. He’s married to Susanna (Amanda Seyfried), a much younger and successful actress with whom he shares their inquisitive and empathetic daughter Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex, delivering one of the better child performances you’ll see this year). Susanna’s schedule finds her away for a long stretch shooting a new film, and so the small family takes a spur of the moment trip to a secluded, modern looking home resting atop a hill in Wales. The walls are brick. The halls labyrinthine. The calls infrequent due to poor service. Its curious architecture is a character in and of itself.

There’s a fight, the marriage is challenged, Theo must come to terms with why and how and what is haunting his tormented and tainted soul. Because the walls of this house stalk with shadows more than they talk through spooky words, it’s important to refrain from divulging any more of the plot once they’ve finally entered the vast and empty estate. Having said that, the story comes across as confused because the two halves don’t add up to a whole, and it’s muddled since neither side knows exactly where or which direction things should go. The mostly lifeless first and second acts take away from a film that could’ve better used the time to further develop the third act’s hysteria, guilt, and its imposing position as a place of reckoning with the self. It knows how to build a conventional plot, but might have been better off digging by its own design instead.

I imagine the picture would have found something more intriguing to say chest deep in dirt, spending the full 90 minutes pilfering around the recesses of a troubled man’s mind instead of briefly squatting there for half an hour. Adapted from the novel by Daniel Kehlmann, writer/director David Koepp’s latest comes across as a poorly planned potluck of ideas instead of a what could have been a hashed out, hodgepodge offering rounded out by an all important grace note. A few elements vaguely harken back to 1959’s House on Haunted Hill, and yet it’s most akin to the hypothetically ill-conceived offspring of 2000’s adultery thriller What Lies Beneath supplemented by the internalized demons on display in 1982’s original Poltergeist. There are enough twists and turns in You Should Have Left to keep most viewers engaged, but the final dead end proves to be less powerful than anticipated, and uniformly unsatisfying. We get more questions than we do adequate answers.

“God damn nightmares.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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