24th Jun2020

‘You Should Have Left’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, Avery Essex, Colin Blumenau, Joshua C. Jackson, Lowri Ann Richards, Eli Powers | Written and Directed by David Koepp

Kevin Bacon reunites with Stir of Echoes director writer-director David Koepp for You Should Have Left, a haunted holiday home horror produced by BlumHouse and based on the novel by Daniel Kehlmann. As such, it’s an entertaining and enjoyable picture that makes up for its relatively simple plot with striking direction, a strong sense of atmosphere and a trio of terrific performances.

Bacon plays Theo Conroy, a wealthy former banker who’s now married to his much younger second wife, Hollywood actress Susanna (Amanda Seyfried), with whom he has an adorable five year old daughter, Ella (Avery Essex). Struggling with jealousy issues (he keeps a feelings journal and listens to self-help recordings), Theo suggests the family take a vacation before Susanna’s next movie starts shooting in London.

Having settled on a surprisingly modern holiday home in the remote Welsh countryside (though just who sent who the link to the listing isn’t exactly clear), the trio settle in for their stay. However, it isn’t long before strange things start happening, things that seem to have a connection to a dark incident in Theo’s past.

Koepp does a superb job of building and sustaining a creepy atmosphere, dropping hints as to the house’s weirdness early on (for example, it takes Theo five hours to turn off the lights on their first night), but keeping the audience guessing throughout as to the exact nature of the threat. Similarly, Koepp paces the film to perfection, building tension and then ramping things up by introducing an unexpected genre element in the later stages. In fairness, he doesn’t have quite as much fun with that element as he could have had, but it’s used to good effect, all the same.

The performances are exceptional, elevating You Should Have Left above and beyond its relatively simple set-up. Bacon, in particular, finds multiple layers within Theo and the result is genuinely moving, not least because Bacon and Koepp boldy resist the expected conventions – without giving too much away, there’s a constant tension within his character that doesn’t play out the way you expect.

Avery Essex is equally good as Ella, giving an utterly charming performance that recalls Drew Barrymore’s work in E.T. (she even has a similar face). Seyfried, by contrast, is slightly side-lined by the script, but she makes a strong impression in her scenes, sparking touching chemistry with both Bacon and Essex.

On top of that, the film is particularly effective in its treatment of jealousy, especially with regard to Theo. Moreover, the film cleverly contains its own critique about older actors being paired with much younger co-stars and it isn’t hard to see it as a cautionary tale in that regard.

That’s not to say You Should Have Left is entirely without flaws. For one thing, the set design is a bit of a mixed bag – the interiors of the house have an interesting stripped-down quality, but they don’t exactly imbue the house with character, which seems an odd decision in what’s supposed to be a haunted house movie. Similarly, there’s a scene set in a Welsh shop that’s entirely unconvincing, like the production decided to save money by sacking its set dressers.

Ultimately, this is an entertaining and smartly directed horror that might make you glad you had to cancel that holiday. On a similar note, the film gets an extra frisson of fear out of the timing of its release – after all, who can’t relate to a story about a house you can’t leave right now?

**** 4/5

You Should Have Left is out now on digital in the US from Universal.


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