You Should Have Left (2020)

AUGUST 5, 2020


In an alternate 2020, where life is relatively normal, I use my AMC A-List to get a ticket for a Friday morning (or Thursday night if I'm feeling adventurous) screening of You Should Have Left and wonder why they released such a small movie in theaters, where it was likely to be torn apart by critics and ignored by audiences. Instead, in the real 2020, Universal and Blumhouse seemingly saw the same scenario I did and realized that it wasn't worth saving for theatrical release whenever theaters can open again, and instead gave it the same VOD fate it probably should have been destined for in the first place.

Don't get me wrong - it's actually pretty good! But it's not a "multiplex" kind of movie, even by the already smaller standards for Blumhouse fare. Their formula (one big star, an interesting concept, and a tiny budget) has yielded several smash hits and solid additions to the genre over the past decade, but even they seemingly know that a few of them don't have that extra bit of oomph that can turn them into Insidious type successes. They even distinguished some of them for a while with "BH Tilt", where the films would get smaller theatrical releases or just go DTV entirely, though it seems that moniker has been retired as I can't recall having seen it for a while now.

One such film was The Darkness, another low-key spooker starring Kevin Bacon, which seemingly suffered from some hasty re-editing and what was, at its core, a fairly dull Poltergeist knockoff. You Should Have Left, however, inches into Shining territory, with a family trio (Bacon, Amanda Seyfried as his second wife, and their six year old daughter Ella) living in an unfamiliar, isolated place that seems to harvest some kind of supernatural energy. The nature of the house reveals itself over time, with only the usual cryptic hints from locals to go on, so writer/director David Koepp (reteaming with Bacon for the first time since Stir of Echoes, an underrated entry in both of their filmographies) opts to have Bacon suffer a few nightmares in order to keep the scares coming while teasing out the "We have to leave this place NOW!" kind of proactive behavior until the third act.

He also gets a lot of mileage out of two mysteries involving his protagonists. One is that Bacon's previous wife is dead, and we're told that she accidentally drowned in the tub after taking too much of her meds, but Bacon's anger issues (he listens to self-help tapes and writes in a journal as therapy) suggests perhaps it wasn't just an accident - will Seyfried suffer the same fate? And that leads to the other mystery, which is that she may be having an affair, but is Bacon just paranoid and jealous? She is obviously much younger than him, something that comes up a few times early on ("Are you her dad?" a PA asks when Bacon visits her on her film set - on the day she is filming a sex scene) and never stops being an issue with regards to their physical needs, as she teases him more than once about his lack of stamina. Is she getting her needs fulfilled elsewhere?


Surprisingly, she is. And she doesn't even try to deny it when he finally confronts her directly about it. It's refreshing; far too many of these "is the dad going nuts?" kind of movies rely on pure paranoia, so to have it not only be a legit concern, but also just rip the band-aid off instead of trying to deny it and make him think he's crazy, was a nice change of pace. Plus, he gets in a line almost as good/biting as Closer's "Thank you for your honesty, now f**k off and die", so that's something. And the truth about his wife doesn't even make him all that villainous - turns out she really did OD and drown accidentally, but he could have saved her in time and just opted not to, as he wanted out of the marriage anyway and he hints she was terrible to him. Sure, this probably denies him a spot in heaven, but at least he's not a psycho ready to snap, which again is something we've seen many times before. As a result, Bacon's final scenes and actions come across almost heartbreaking, as opposed to yet another climax where a mother has to protect her child from a totally unhinged father.

Many people have noted that the film is ripping off House of Leaves, the 2000 novel from Mark Z. Danielewski, but that's - as usual - social media ignorance, because the movie is based on a different book (novella, technically) by Daniel Kehlmann. I haven't read either of them myself, but the things people were commenting on (from the trailer, because why watch something and get context?), such as the fact that the house is bigger outside than it is inside, were taken from his novel. If Kehlmann himself was cribbing from Danielewski, then fine, but blame him, not David Koepp. Anyway, these elements don't take up as much of the movie as you might have expected from the trailer - it's not until the third act that Bacon even notices things like "this room is 21 feet long when measured outside but 25 feet when measured inside". The novella, best as I can tell from the wiki synopsis* is more or less the same, though the previous dead wife stuff seems to be invented for the film, and their age difference isn't mentioned either which suggests it wasn't an issue there if it even existed at all.

Otherwise it seems pretty similar, with even small details in the film (such as the local shopkeeper being slow to retrieve items from Bacon's grocery list) coming from Kehlmann's text. I've always said that short stories/novellas should be more frequently adapted than full length novels, since there's often no need to excise so much material that makes the original as memorable as it is, not to mention room for the filmmakers to add their own ideas without angering the existing fanbase. Shorter works such as this can be filmed word for word without having to sacrifice much, and when the text is shorter, the filmmakers can use it as a foundation to create something closer to an original, like the Poe/Corman/Price films that use the story for a climax, basically, and add in an hour of exclusive backstory.

Long story short, it's a perfect fit for VOD. It's only 90 minutes long, has a few solid scares (Bacon waking himself out of a dream by jabbing himself with a broken bottle is pretty choice), some decent story turns, plus - vague spoiler that you can see on the trailer anyway - a particular wardrobe choice that should please anyone who has been a fan of Bacon's genre movies for forty years. And the man is aging nicely; in The Darkness he had his hair darkened and it looked weird, but here he's leaning into it with some gray showing, and I (far more grayer albeit younger) say go for it, sir. It's not a total 180 from what you've seen before, but the riffs on the formula held my interest more than the initial reviews had me believing I would, and for the first time in five months I didn't wish I was at a movie theater instead. Perfect couch movie.

What say you?

*I would have read it since it's only 110 pages, but they're charging 12 bucks for it on Kindle! As the author of a 600+ page ebook that costs five bucks, I can say with some authority that the publisher can eat shit. Call me when it's $1.99 at most.

1 comment:

  1. Is this better than The Darkness? Because I really hated that movie.


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