A film review by Craig J. Koban July 13, 2020

YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT jj

2020, R, 93 mins.

Kevin Bacon as Theo  Amanda Seyfried as Susanna  /  Geoff Bell as Angus  /  Avery Essex as Ella  /  Colin Blumenau as Shopkeeper

Written and directed by David Koepp, based on the novel by Daniel Kehlmann

YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT is one of those types of "PWP" films, or one that contains a premise without payoff.  

It's from writer/director David Koepp, who has made a large name for himself in Hollywood, especially as a writer of such blockbusters like the first two JURASSIC PARK films, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, the first MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, and WAR OF THE WORLDS.  On a level of versatility, he's worked in a tremendous number of genres, but he has also tried his hand in the director's chair too, most notably in THE TRIGGER EFFECT and the terribly underrated GHOST TOWN and PREMIUM RUSH.  He might be best known - as far as the psychological horror thriller genre goes - for STIR OF ECHOES, which starred Kevin Bacon, and the two have re-teamed now for YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT, which you think would have genre fans excited.  Regrettably, Koepp's latest scarefest is decidedly low on genuine scares, not to mention that its core premise feels derivative and the  production on the whole seems woefully undercranked and generally lacking in interest.   

The initial setup, at least, generates some modest interest.  Bacon plays Theo, a relatively rich and secure man that has a dark past.  His wife died of highly tragic and suspicious circumstances, and very public accusations of his potential guilt in murdering her have dogged him for years (he has steadfastly professed his innocence and was never convicted of any wrongdoing, but the whole matter sent his life on a negative tailspin).  In the aftermath of his wife's death and ensuing criminal trial, the free Theo hooked up with and married a substantially younger woman in Susanna (Amanda Seyfried, who in real life is 30 years younger than her co-star...more on that in a bit), a young and popular up-and-coming actress that's currently stuck in low rent parts.  During one of the film's more subversively funny moments, Theo comes to visit her on a closed and secure set and can hear her performing simulated sex with her male co-star during one filmed sequence.  Theo seems bothered by petty jealously, which leads to him pulling his car off the road on the way home to have actual sex with his trophy wife as a form of vindication.   

Theo seems obsessively protective of Susanna and quite a but mistrusting of her.  He constantly checks her phone and tablets behind her back for any sign of unfaithfulness on her part.  Stuck in the middle of all of this is Theo's daughter in Ella (Avery Essex), who seems mostly happy go lucky.  When Samantha learns that her film production is going to migrate overseas both she and Theo decide to change things up a bit and opt to rent a massive cottage home in the Welsh country, one that seems oddly "bigger on the inside."  Initially, their move in seems fine, but then extremely odd and some would easily describe as paranormal occurrences begin to happen.  Cell reception is nonexistent, hallways, doors, and rooms start springing up randomly, time exists differently in certain areas of the house, creepy Polaroids show up taped to the walls, and even more damming are the sinister writings in Theo's journal that were not penned by him or anyone else in his family.  After having a major spat over Samatha's probable infidelity, Theo boots her out and stays with Ella, but from here even more frighteningly unnatural occurrences begin to plague the home and Theo's sanity and grasp on reality. 

 

 

On one hand, it's a treat to see Bacon and Koepp combine their efforts once again after a long absence, not to mention that it's a nostalgic trip to witness the former return to his early horror roots (remember, the then unknown and soon-to-be FOOTLOOSE star made an appearance in FRIDAY THE 13TH and later showed up in spooky flicks like TREMORS and FLATLINERS).  That, and much like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the recent 7500, Bacon is making a return to film roles here after a four year absence, which is welcoming.  Even at a ripe old 62, Bacon looks spectacularly young, and YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT has some fun playing off of the beyond obvious age difference between Theo and Samantha.  In some ways, Koepp's film is perhaps more interesting as a character dynamics piece than a bona fide horror thriller in the way it traverses all of the awkwardness of men approaching their golden years that are married to women young enough to be their daughter and/or granddaughter.   

Here's the thing, though: Yes, Seyfried's and Bacon's age gap is glaringly apparent here, to be sure, but the pair have such a genuine lack of tangible chemistry on screen together that they never make their union feel truthfully organic.  Plus, both characters are established as stock types: he's the obnoxiously jealous and elder a-hole, whereas she's the young free spirit that bothered by that and just wants the freedom to have a good time.  The only other thing that typifies their relationship is Theo's frequent inability to sexually satisfy her...and that's about it.  There's simply not enough meat on the bones of this screenplay to make these people interesting, and when it really boils down to it there's no credible reason to have such an age difference between them in the first place.  I honestly believe that Koepp was trying to dig deep into all of the fractured and flawed layers of his characters and their mismatched union, but his writing lacks complexity in this area.  And poor Seyfried's Samantha gets unceremoniously shafted from the story midway through; she essentially becomes a plot device...and not much more. 

All we are basically left with is a premise that, as mentioned, doesn't payoff in any meaningful way.  Viewers experiencing deja vu watching this will undoubtedly think back on THE SHINING, another film also about a haunted house that creates havoc for its characters.  Homes possessing supernatural powers that makes its dwellers' lives a living hell is as old as the genre itself, but Koepp never puts his own unique spin on such well worn material.  Compounding it all is the fact that YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT is also a Blumhouse production, and one that comes disappointingly off like one of their more disposable and manufactured assembly line efforts.  Koepp's work here plays like THE SHINING FOR DUMMIES, and mostly fails at being intoxicatingly unnerving and terrifying.  We get all of the Blumhouse staples here: generic jump scares on top of jump scares and everything else stale and hackneyed thrown on top for good measure.  YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT is violent and chaotic, yes, but rarely ever scary.  As the house that Theo and his daughter seem forever trapped in puts an even tighter grip on them, Koepp struggles with making the environment visually unique and unsettling.  Maybe because the house morphs and changes on a dime it's suitable that Koepp's direction lacks cohesive spatial and editorial geography, but I don't buy it and chalk it up to mismanagement on his hands. 

By the time this 93 minute film (which paradoxically felt egregiously too long for its own good) built towards a climax that I thought would pay off handsomely, it utterly fails to leave viewers with a satisfying sense of closure.  It...just...kinda ends...and that's it.  Even as Koepp's lackluster scripting here tries to pile on would-be shocking revelations (one of which you can see from a proverbial mile away) and attempts to flesh out his characters with necessary exposition-laced backstories, it's all too late.  I see what Koepp was going for here.  He obviously wanted to spin a ghostly, slow-burn yarn about a spooky domicile wreaking untold harm on those that reside in it (plus, with the current pandemic, there's an unintentionally tacked on meta quality about people feeling uneasy about being trapped within their own homes right now).  But YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT takes such an achingly long time to shift itself into second gear that, twenty to thirty minutes later, it comes hastily to an anti-climatic ending that frankly feels like a copout.  This film made me think about the late Roger Ebert's coined "Brotman's Law" (named after Chicago movie exhibitor Oscar Brotman): "If nothing happens by the end of the first reel, then nothing is ever going to happen."  YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT pathetically tries to pull itself together over and over again to find creative inspiration, but gets lost in the process.  

And as for paying a rather premium VOD price of $20 for something this generic and uninspired...that's more chilling than the film itself.  

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