If the Covid 19 Crisis continues for a year or more, you can expect to see a lot more movies that look like You Should Have Left. The film – Blumhouse’s latest take on the haunted house genre – is big on isolation, with fewer than 3 people appearing in any given scene and only a handful of shooting locations this is THE movie of the social distancing era. Much like an in-home quarantine, however, the movie has little in the way of memorable moments but is instead defined by long, uncomfortable silences that build a palpable sense of unease with no real denouement to break the creeping dread.
The film stars Kevin Bacon as a retired widower who joins his second wife and their daughter in a palatial vacation home in the Welsh countryside. Said wife, a game if underutilized Amanda Seyfried, is a prominent actress (such typecasting!) who is looking to spend some quality time with her family before leaving on an 8-week shoot in London. It isn’t long before things begin to bump in the night at this AirBnB from hell, and the movie unfolds about as you’d expect if you’ve seen genre staples like What Lies Beneath, The Shining, or House on Haunted Hill. Everything from the husband’s checkered past, to the male lead’s apparent descent into madness to the ever shifting layout of the building itself feels fairly in-step with the conventions you’re used to, though not in a way that makes this difficult to watch or enjoy.
As I’ve hinted already, the best aspect of this movie is its atmosphere, as the sound design, cinematography and staging does a great job of creating an aura of ennui. I don’t think I’ve ever said this about a film, but I think the main contributing factor to the movie’s suspense is the lighting. Not just because lamps and hallways mysteriously illuminate throughout the movie, but the staging of certain scenes that allow Bacon to cast looming shadows across the room are not entirely subtle, but are effective all the same. It’s the kind of movie where you’re watching the backgrounds of every scene just as much as the characters in them, and that allows the atmosphere to fill some of the gaps left by the writing.
The issues really come from the story, which is all too obvious from the start. When Bacon’s Theo goes to visit his wife on a set, we’re immediately introduced to his unease about his wife’s life outside the marriage – something made even more overt by the fact that he walks up on a rare outdoor sex scene (In a Fast and Furious movie in the PA’s hat is to be believed?) – and it goes precisely where you think it will. We discover that Theo’s first wife died under mysterious circumstances and we know exactly where it’s going. There’s a boogeyman in the daughter’s dreams AND a mysterious caretaker for the house that they’ve never seen, and you get the picture. – Side note, having Kevin Bacon also play the role of Stetler (under a ton of makeup, admittedly) was ill advised, as the look hews a little too closely to those old Google TV Ads.
The movie also seeks to develop certain story beats or character traits, but fails to commit to them. They introduce Theo’s faith-based guilt early in the film, but don’t really do anything with it. We learn that neither Theo nor his wife actually booked this house, but that element of the story is never really developed. Theo’s rage issues? Only really addressed in one scene. Time travel? Maybe? I don’t know, there’s a sequence that hints at it, but we never actually explore what that means. For a while we’re led to believe that all of the issues could be byproducts of Theo’s guilt, but that seems to go away when it’s confirmed that the house itself seems to feed on people, so who knows.
You can’t really fault any of the actors, though, as our three leads give good-to-great performances. Seyfried stands out with limited screen time, but feels like an actor that fully inhabits her character – even if it isn’t the meatiest role to work with. Nine-year-old Avery Essex is also pretty good as Ella, the couple’s only child, but does fall into some child-actor tropes with tone and delivery. She definitely nails some of the human and emotional beats of being a child in a frightening situation, but can seem faux precocious at times (which admittedly may stem from scripting issues). There are few actors more consistent than Kevin Bacon, and though he works better in crazier roles, he is perfectly fine as the insecure father/husband character in a horror movie situation. Again, all three actors do fine with what they’re given, it’s just a shame that the story doesn’t give them more to do.
In all, You Should Have Left is a fine, but flawed movie that gets by on a well developed atmosphere and a name cast. If you’re a fan of these low-budget Blumhouse features, you should enjoy it, but there’s little crossover appeal to convert casual viewers. The best Blumhouse movies are the ones that have an interesting idea (or at least a novel take) at the core of their story, and sadly, this one falls just short of that mark.
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