Writer/director David Koepp has a solid reputation in Hollywood thanks to his early days writing such hits as Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, and the first Spider-Man. His directorial efforts, however, have been hit-and-miss, a history to keep in mind when watching his latest movie, You Should Have Left.
A so-called “psychological thriller,” the film stars Kevin Bacon as Theo Conroy, an older man whose past still haunts him. He’s currently married to Susanna (Amanda Seyfried), an actress, with whom he has a young daughter, Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex). A break in Susanna’s filming schedule gives the family an opportunity to get away, and they choose a house in Wales that will be close to Susanna’s next film set.
That turns out to be a poor decision, as almost from the moment they get there, Theo is beset by nightmares that may or may not be happening in real life. Combined with a fragile mental state that he’s been in since the death of his first wife, the situation drives Theo further and further into paranoia.
Koepp, who adapted the film from a novella by author Daniel Kehlmann, obviously intends for it to be suspenseful, but he has a lot of difficulty in building that up. Almost all of the freaky stuff that happens in the film happens to Theo, so any supernatural element is undercut by what seem to be clear-cut mental issues.
At one point, Theo and Susanna have an argument, and Susanna notes how much easier it would be if Theo yelled at her instead of seething quietly. The same can be said of the film as a whole, as Bacon underplays many of the moments that deserve bigger reactions, making it difficult to get into the spirit of what the story should be.
In case it isn’t already obvious, the film is hardly scary at all. Koepp calls upon composer Geoff Zanelli to amplify moments that should be frightening with your typical horror movie music, but that cliché pulls you out of the story, not into it. When the big twist inevitably comes, it elicits a shrug and a “Huh?” instead of being a mind-blowing development.
Even with all of the story faults, Bacon and Seyfried work well together despite their significant (27 years!) age difference. The film makes fun of that gap at several points, giving the audience permission to accept the oddity. Their relationship still isn’t wholly believable, but their acting makes up for any lack. Essex keeps up with them, and it’s easy to see her developing into another great young actress.
Many of us, especially horror fans, are starved for entertainment during this time in relative isolation, but You Should Have Left is not the satisfying meal it should have been. It makes promises on which it can’t deliver, and will likely make little dent on the 2020 movie landscape.
You Should Have Left is available on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Xfinity, Vudu, GooglePlay, FandangoNow, and more on-demand options.