Director: David Koepp
Writer: David Koepp
Producer: Jason Blum, Kevin Bacon, Dean O¡¯Toole
Stars: Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, Avery Essex
A troubled man takes his wife and daughter to a remote house in Wales where he is forced to confront the ghosts of his past.
Blumhouse has long employed a scalable model for their horror productions. Marquee attractions that feature popular franchises or recognizable names receive the red carpet rollout of major marketing money and placement on thousands of multiplex screens. Then there are the smaller stepsibling flicks made with the ¡°get in, get out¡± mentality of a network TV movie-of-the-week. Those go straight to VOD, sometimes after sitting on the shelf for a year or three and often released under ¡®BH Tilt¡¯ branding.
Until COVID-19 compelled a course correction, ¡°You Should Have Left¡± (by the way, I just had to double-check the title because it already evaporated from my memory, that¡¯s how faint of a ping this movie puts on the radar) planned on being in the former category of ¡°bigger deal¡± theatrical thrillers. You wouldn¡¯t guess that by watching it. I¡¯m not buying the coronavirus pandemic as the sole swing for going direct-to-video. Subtract the draw of stars Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried and what remains is a quick and cheap work-for-hire that looks like ¡°just another average day at the office¡± for everyone involved. While Blumhouse¡¯s top end boasts names like ¡°Get Out¡± (review here), ¡°The Purge¡± (review here), and ¡°Paranormal Activity¡± (review here), ¡°You Should Have Left¡± appears more at home lumped in with the lower likes of ¡°The Darkness¡± (review here), ¡°Incarnate¡± (review here), and other Tilt titles you don¡¯t remember.
Kevin Bacon plays Theo. People don¡¯t like Theo because they suspect he murdered his first wife. The audience gets invited to not like him too because suspicions of infidelity cause Theo to violate his new wife¡¯s privacy. He¡¯s also dismissive of his daughter when she asks reasonable questions and he behaves like a brusque grump toward anyone he impatiently interacts with.
Theo¡¯s first wife died at least seven years ago, yet the emotional damage still wracks him so much that he has to meditate daily with self-help tapes and therapeutic journal writing. Despite being defined by omnipresent moodiness, Theo apparently emerged from his dour cloud long enough to somehow appear appealing to second wife Susanna (Amanda Seyfried), a successful actress approximately half his age. I¡¯d say I¡¯m not sure what she sees in Theo, except Susanna doesn¡¯t see much either. Turns out she is sleeping with another man after all, so cross her off the list of likable people while you¡¯re at it.
Since ¡°You Should Have Left¡± only has three characters, our last chance to locate a sympathetic one comes from Theo and Susanna¡¯s six-year-old daughter Ella. There isn¡¯t a casting agent in Hollywood who could find a young actress with more effortless effervescence than newcomer Avery Essex. Essex brings a naturally appealing sweetness that reads as adorable during downtime or as a poised personality when called upon to be convincingly serious.
Too bad director David Koepp¡¯s script, based on German author Daniel Kehlmann¡¯s novel, chooses to shade Ella with as much obnoxiousness as her parents. Ella flaunts repeated warnings from Susanna about climbing too high in a tree only to finally defy mom with a dare that causes her to fall. Theo receives the same selectively deaf ears when Ella knocks a glass to the floor as a consequence of ignoring instructions to not ride her scooter indoors.
Everyone started so well too, what with their clich¨¦d ¡°loving family¡± scene of giggling and tickling while a piano plays warmly underneath. Why do they all have to find a way to be annoyingly off-putting?
We¡¯re stuck with this sourpuss trio on a trip to Wales where they¡¯ve rented a house that of course turns out to be haunted, so to speak. At least, we¡¯re told it¡¯s Wales even though interiors could have been shot in Van Nuys for all anyone knows. Instead of a gothic mansion of cobblestones and cobwebs or even a dusty old home with ominous portraits and furniture drop cloths, Theo and company stay in an undecorated modern box of white brick walls and plain wood paneling. Now stale scenes of tiptoeing in the dark can take place in boring corridors rather than anywhere that might attract an eye. The place is about as spooky as an Ikea and just as brightly lit.
That¡¯s a fitting analogy because ¡°You Should Have Left¡± (I had to look up the title again just now) builds a movie the same way Ikea builds furniture: assembling as few simple pieces as possible according to a one-page black-and-white diagram.
The soundtrack supplies more audio stings than music. Scares consistent of snoozy setups such as a hand on someone¡¯s shoulder, lights flickering, and silhouettes passing in the foreground or background, all accompanied by a rumbling ¡°buumh!¡± since there¡¯s no other way your blood might pump. Should you watch with a friend, arm he or she with a box of candy to skyhook into your yawns to keep you awake. Nightmares within nightmares and medicine cabinet mirror fake-outs aren¡¯t going to get that job done.
When I read back what¡¯s written above, my tone comes off as more caustic than perhaps ¡°You Should Have Left¡± (got it that time) deserves. It¡¯s not an offensively awful or even intelligence insulting film. It¡¯s simply a tapioca-flavored thriller taking the shortest routes possible in developing pre-programmed people and an intrigue-deprived story.
Sloppy staging like an overexposed poolside scene and bare minimum beats become additional passengers on a penny-pinching ship fated to wreck on DTV rocks whether Bacon and Seyfried were aboard or not. Starting with the title, survivors will forget everything about this voyage long before the next movie comes to the rescue.
Review Score: 40