'You Should Have Left': Film Review

Universal
An enjoyable but unexceptional exercise in haunted-house claustrophobia.
6/18/2020

David Koepp reunites with 'Stir of Echoes' star Kevin Bacon in a Blumhouse thriller about a man haunted by his past, co-starring Amanda Seyfried.

Don't vacation-rental services have enough trouble in the pandemic era that they shouldn't have to contend with stories like David Koepp's You Should Have Left — in which travelers become trapped inside a house bent on destroying their lives?

A rigorous Clorox-wipe regimen won't address the problems facing a rich banker (Kevin Bacon) whose getaway becomes a space- and time-bending nightmare. Taking a much safer route in his first directing effort since 2015's critical and commercial bomb Mortdecai, Koepp returns to the "is it all in his head?" scares of Secret Window and the Bacon-led Stir of Echoes.

The result would be a perfectly fine popcorn-flick on a normal Friday night at a multiplex playing only one or two other thrillers, if that. But offer it as a $20 on-demand experience, as Universal is doing, and the sofa-bound viewer is forced to point out how very many scarier films are available, for free, just a click of the remote away.

Koepp takes liberties with source material by Daniel Kehlmann, whose novella was about a screenwriter who's cracking up as he tries to pen a sequel. Here, Bacon's Theo is a generic rich dude vacationing with a trophy wife (an actress, Susanna, played by Amanda Seyfried) and a daughter (Avery Essex's Ella), young enough to be his daughter and grandkid, respectively. Money aside, Theo's only distinguishing feature is an old scandal and his vain belief that everyone in the world knows about it: His previous wife killed herself, and many observers at the time believed Theo staged the suicide to get rid of her.

Theo is attempting to learn meditation as a means of growing beyond both that trauma and his jealous attitude toward Susanna (not to mention the gruesome nightmares that afflict him). But when he suggests a quick vacation in Wales before Susanna starts production on a new film in England, the trip sounds like pure fun. The couple even keeps that attitude once they've checked into a house every viewer will know is trouble: The cold, modern brick house is much too big for three people, is oppressively labyrinthine and is painted in the uninviting clay-and-putty hues of a Giorgio Morandi still life.

While DP Angus Hudson's depressive color palette communicates the house's menace to viewers, it takes our heroes a bit longer to catch on. The grown-ups have nightmares; poor Ella sees shadows where there should be none. Then Dad goes downstairs to turn out the lights one night and somehow loses five hours of his life. Narrow corridors appear and disappear, leading to unexpected rooms like an Escher paradox.

While some of the scares soon facing Theo are generic (his reflection in a window doesn't move when he does, oh no!), the movie is fairly persuasive in establishing a specific bond between him and his loving kid, who calls him "Baba" and picks up on the friction between him and Susanna. Whether Theo's suspicions are justified or not, he's about to cause a rift with his wife just when some family unity is called for.

Locals in this little Welsh town (shooting was actually in New Jersey, but it passes) aren't shy about hinting to Theo that they know something about the house's owner, Stetler. But we only glimpse the man in shadowy scenes that may be hallucinations, and Theo himself won't meet him until the movie has fully entered haunted-house mode. Stetler is the film's weakest link, a boogeyman without enough personality to exist for viewers when he's not onscreen.

Koepp and his cast successfully convey how afraid the family becomes once it's clear they're being supernaturally prevented from leaving the house. But that's not the most original idea upon which to build a franchise, and it's clear from both third-act exposition and the pic's final scene that the filmmakers want just that. If our heroes "should have left" this too-big villa while they had the choice, Blumhouse should also know when to move on, and not book this enjoyable but unexceptional thriller for a second stay.

Production company: Blumhouse
Distributor: Universal Pictures (Available on demand)
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, Avery Essex
Screenwriter-director: David Koepp
Producers: Jason Blum, Kevin Bacon, Dean O’Toole
Executive Producers: Jeanette Volturno, Couper Samuelson, Derek Ambrosi
Director of photography: Angus Hudson
Production designers: Sophie Becher, Megan Elizabeth Bell
Costume designer: Susi Coulthard
Editor: Derek Ambrosi
Composer: Geoff Zanelli
Casting director: Terri Taylor

R, 93 minutes