You Should Have Watched Something Else, Re: Supernatural Chiller You Should Have Left (2020)
Title: You Should Have Left
First Wide Release: June 18, 2020 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: David Koepp
Writer: David Koepp, Daniel Kehlmann
Runtime: 93 Minutes
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, Avery Tiiu Essex
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
A family rents a peculiar home in the middle of the country to enjoy a vacation before Susanna (Amanda Seyfried) heads off to London for her next film role. This leaves Theo (Kevin Bacon) to take care of their daughter Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex) in the interim. Their reprieve is short-lived by strange occurrences and unsettling dreams. It’s up to Theo to uncover the mystery behind the rental before it’s too late. You Should Have Left is based on a novella by Daniel Kehlmann.
You Should Have Left stumbles with its setup and manages to make its premise tepid, lethargic, and soulless.
The lack of substance is the primary woe of You Should Have Left, which makes the entire film feel interminable. You Should Have Left focuses on all the wrong aspects of the house’s intrigue and the horror of the circumstances befalling Theo and his family. The villain, when revealed, spends way too much time talking and explaining the situation. The rule of ‘show, don’t tell’ is heavily ignored and the viewing experience suffers from it. Another minor detail that I feel the need to comment on is the repetition of the age gap between Theo and Susanna. Sure, it was noticeable, but did the writers really need to expand upon it more than once?
Performance-wise, the cast does their best to inject some life into the dull script. Seyfried is as charming as ever, as is Essex. Bacon is given the brunt of the work due to Theo’s positionality in relation to the action. Bacon musters the charisma he has left into his role, but it just doesn’t cut it. Theo comes across as bland and unsympathetic the longer we stay with him. Redemption is a huge theme that’s embedded into the DNA of You Should Have Left, but even some of the final moments can’t make up for Theo’s shortcomings.
Artistically, You Should Have Left goes for a less is more approach to craft its atmosphere. The establishing shots of the rental house capture a spartan and unwelcoming energy that permeates throughout the rest of the film. Everything is soaked in a pale, off-white, or otherwise dreary color pallet. It feels large and unforgiving, which is a perfect tonal match for the film’s material. In terms of the actual filmmaking, there are not too many moments of note outside of a series of doorway chase scenes that were admittedly quite intense and fun to watch. It was a combination of editorial and directorial success.
Where the film succeeds on artistic merit, it takes a definitive dive regarding the quality of its technical aspects. The effects are cheap looking and look like they belong in a bargain bin DVD release from 2005, not a multi-million-dollar budget movie from 2020. It's particularly egregious when they finally do reveal the ghosts, they kind of just fizzle like white noise on a tv screen. Another pet peeve of mine that the film uses is the go-to jump scare formula of ramping up the score as a cue to what they want you to be afraid of at that moment. Rather than, actually creating a single moment worthy of dread or fear. It’s sad really.
The most upsetting aspect of this film is the wasted opportunity it represents. With a decent enough premise and solid casting, director David Koepp should have made a solid hit. There’s an interesting movie underneath the bad effects and plodding story. I enjoy that the film goes takes a more serious approach with its story but it feels toothless. Much could have been explored and ultimately the dark depths of its premise are never quite reached. The pacing contributes to this issue. Is it going for a slow-burn until a terrifying finale or will they gradually crescendo the suspense in a more traditional three-act story? The answer is neither? By the end, it feels as if almost nothing of importance has happened because the stakes are predetermined and truthfully very low.
By the film’s conclusion, we understand why the events are happening and what the messages have meant all along. Given that this review has been primarily negative, I do want to say that I liked the messaging behind this film. The double meaning behind the title actually makes for some interesting reflection after the credits roll. While the reasoning behind their predicament isn’t revolutionary or memorable, it does feel earned. To me, that does make up for some of the narrative issues that plague the majority of the film.
You Should Have Left is nothing to write home about from both a technical and entertainment perspective. The word I keep coming back to when describing my experience watching this film is flaccid. It’s limp, disappointing, and just ‘there.’ I found myself wanting to like it more than I actually enjoyed it. There are hints of something greater than what is made. I wouldn’t recommend it unless there is an opportunity to stream it for free somewhere. Ultimately, the film itself is all the warning necessary. I just wish someone had sent me a ‘You Should Have Left’ message before I agreed to spend money on renting this.
Overall Score? 5/10