There’s an entire cottage industry devoted to horror movies where characters go to a new location – rented house, big old hotel, etc. – to get away from it all, only to end up dealing with things that go bump in the night. There’s nothing wrong with trodding over familiar ground – there are approximately ten billion adaptations of Dracula, after all – but if you’re going to construct a getaway horror story, you’d be well-served to give viewers something fresh to view. Which is what David Koepp tries, sort of, with You Should Have Left.
Koepp, a legendary screenwriter – Jurassic Park, Panic Room, War of the World, I could go on – who occasionally dabbles in filmmaking, has had some success with movies about scary houses. He directed the excellent Stir of Echoes, a creepy ghost story that had this misfortune of arriving around the same time as The Sixth Sense, ensuring that it got lost in that shuffle. You Should Have Left reunites Koepp with his Stir of Echoes star Kevin Bacon, with the actor playing a much different part. In Echoes, Bacon was a working-class schlub with dashed dreams. Here, he’s an obscenely wealthy man with a much younger wife, Susanna, (Amanda Seyfried) and a rambunctious daughter, Ella (Avery Essex).
Susanna is a movie star, and when Bacon’s character, Theo Conroy, isn’t being mistaken for his wife’s father, he’s seething with jealousy. He suspects his young wife might be unfaithful to him, and it clearly eats at him. Theo attempts to control such bad thoughts by listening to meditation tapes and scribbling away in his journal. Theo also has a murky past involving a tragic incident – one that has turned him into a bit of a pariah anywhere he goes.
Frustrated with all of this, Theo proposes a getaway, and soon he, Susanna, and Ella have shuffled off to Wales, where they have rented a gorgeous, ultra-modernist looking home. It’s very secluded – natch – and very sparse inside. It looks beautiful, but looks can be deceiving. And before long, all three members of the family are suffering from jarring nightmares.
Other strange things happen: doors open into places they shouldn’t; rooms appear to be larger inside than out; and the few people in the small village near the house give Theo the stinkeye, and offer up vague, ominous statements. When asked if he’s seen the house’s owner yet, Theo says no, leading a villager to reply: “Well he sees you.” Cue the eerie music.
You Should Have Left has a lot on its mind, and no real idea what to do with it all. Koepp can craft some tightly plotted tales, and there are more than a handful of moments here that are cleverly constructed – be it the way Theo appears to lose a large chunk of time while trying to turn off the house’s many light switches, or a scene involving two cell phones that feels as if Koepp sat back from his keyboard and crossed his arms in triumph after he typed it out.
But all of that gets lost in the fray. While the film gets points for bucking tradition and trying to portray its scenes of fright mostly in bright daylight (shot with sharpness by cinematographer Angus Hudson), the scares just aren’t very scary. It doesn’t help that the pacing never feels right, with long stretches of the film focusing on things that would’ve been better served by being truncated.
Bacon, for his part, is giving it his all, and since he carries most of the film by himself, that’s good. The actor makes the most of the part, leaning into Theo’s attempts to control his anger. Seyfried, meanwhile, makes the most of a somewhat underserved part. The age difference between the two actors works nicely to the film’s advantage, helping to bridge the emotional gap that widens between the married couple.
After more than a few promising fits and starts, You Should Have Left descends into confusion and awkward exposition, with Koepp suddenly striving to explain the reasoning behind all the creepiness, and not doing a very good job about it. Even when Theo eventually figures out what’s going on, don’t be surprised if you’re still left in the dark. With the number of talented folks involved with this movie, You Should Have Left should have been better.
/Film Rating: 6 out of 10
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