You Should Have Left (2020)
Two and Half Stars

If I had to pick one movie genre to cast onto the ice floes, it would be horror.  Most scary flicks are replete with dumb people doing dumb things, until they get hacked up by a killer with incomprehensible motives.  Eventually, this cavalcade of tropes becomes wearying.  Now that I’ve aired my feelings, I will say that You Should Have Left sidesteps a lot of the standard clichés.  Its characters come across as vaguely human.  Genuinely spooky ambience abounds.  The only problem?  Well, to borrow an industry term, it still sucks pretty bad.

Actually, let me pour a little curdled milk into one of my compliments.  This movie does feature one annoying cliché, and the filmmakers ride it for 90 minutes like a panting stallion.  You’ll know it when you see it:  A character finds themselves in some murderous scenario.  They sweat and scream, only to bolt upright in bed.  It was all a dream.  Phew!  But then…something else terrible happens!  They gasp themselves awake again.  A dream within a dream!  I can spot a movie like this a freebie, but after three or four of these fake-outs, I was ready to chuck my TV onto the lawn.

Now, I know what you’re thinking:  We’re halfway through this review and he hasn’t even said what the movie is about.  And that second paragraph is loaded with bizarre imagery.  Curdled milk?  A panting stallion?  He must’ve grown up under power lines or something.  Well, I grew up near power lines, thank you very much.  You still want a plot summary?  Fine, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Theo (Kevin Bacon) is an obnoxiously rich banker with a bit of a sketchy side.  He’s married to Susanna (Amanda Seyfried), a fast-rising actress.  Their relationship has hit a bit of a rough patch, so he suggests they retreat with their young daughter (Avery Essex) to an Airbnb in the Welsh countryside.  Turns out, this dream home feels like it was co-designed by Rod Serling and M.C. Escher:  The layout plays tricks with their sense of reality, while a nightmarish presence draws out their deepest guilts and fears.

Like the house itself, You Should Have Left has good bones.  Writer-director David Koepp (who helped write Jurassic Park and War of the Worlds for Steven Spielberg) supplies some effective character moments that feel uncommonly strong for a horror film.  Kevin Bacon excels as a man trying to sort out whether he’s a good man trapped in a villain’s body, or vice versa.  Essex brings real depth to a little girl who’s wise beyond her years.

It’s too bad that none of this adds up to very much.  Koepp and company spend so much time trying to be smart that they forget to be scary.  Cerebral and deliberate, the movie builds a slow burn that slowly fizzles.  Yes, it wins a few points for avoiding the typical horror pitfalls.  It’s nice to be spared from watching knuckleheads blunder into certain death for entire movie.  Unfortunately, You Should Have Left commits the ultimate movie sin of being boring.  You should leave this one alone.

93 min.  R.

 

 

Author: Todd Wofford

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