A-Ron’s New Movie Reviews: You Should Have Left (2020)

Mega horror producer Blumhouse, teams up with writer and director David Koepp in the new psychological haunted house thriller “You Should Have Left”. After coming together twenty one years ago in “Stir Of Echoes” writer and director David Koepp and star Kevin Bacon adapt the 2017 novella “You Should Have Left”. It’s a simple and effective journey into a dimension of sight, sound and mind within a tightly wound 90 minutes. Koepp and his production designers establish a seriously weird but beautifully built house. Koepp’s attention to detail and solid editing makes the journey between the unnervingly long hallways and through doors feel unsettling. Koepp adds some great camera angles and cinematography to the mix, while manipulating light, the characters perspectives and showcasing his superb use of reflections. This is mostly the Kevin Bacon show, who is at one of his best here as a man trying to suppress his darker tendencies, resisting the urge to go off. Kevin Bacon knows how to play with his expressions and body language. It isn’t much of a fright film, although it can get under your skin. It does much better with troubled characters and the secrets they keep. So you wouldn’t be wrong in comparing it to Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” or being a nifty throwback to “The Twilight Zone”. “You Should Have Left” is a chilling horror, psychological thriller that benefits from crisp, unpretentious filmmaking, wasting no time on needless filler and getting right to the mystery.

Blumhouse and it’s master puppeteer Jason Blum, have been the mega producer of horror films for the past 15 years. Producing films from traditional horror to thrillers to dramas to the smaller and quieter psychological fare. The latest from the mega producer, is called “You Should Have Left” and charts a somewhat different course, as it’s a combination of all genres that Blumhouse has produced in one way or another. 

Universal Pictures, who releases the film has been aggressive recently due to the Covid pandemic, about pushing out movies on demand and compared to “The King of Staten Island” to “Trolls World Tour”. This particular film perhaps loses something without an audience, but yet gains something to be viewed while in your own home. As the films claustrophobic scale feels well-suited to consumption on a home screen, since were watching a movie designed to make you want to flee the confines of a house.

While primarily known for his screenwriting credits including “Jurassic Park”, “Mission Impossible”, “War Of The Worlds” and “Panic Room”. Writer and director David Koepp hasn’t directed since his 2015 stinker “Mortdecai”, but his early years were devoted to genre efforts and taking great interest in the vastness of human paranoia and delusion. There was the adaptation of Stephen King’s “Secret Window” and surely his best film “Stir Of Echoes, which reunites the director with star Kevin Bacon in the latest “You Should Have Left”. 

Based on the novella by Daniel Kehlmann of the same name. In working within the Blumhouse template, they continue to keep the production small. As Koepp uses some very simple and effective tricks to generate genuine tingles up your spine. By the trailers it suggests that “You Should Have Left” is a haunted house horror story, but while it’s fun to watch old haunted-house tropes play out in a sleek modern setting. 

The film takes it in a different direction in quickly establishing that either the house is evil or the house is bringing out the evil in Kevin Bacon’s Theo. It plays with the idea that it is not the house itself, but the spirit within that is the real danger. This is where married couple Theo Conroy (Kevin Bacon) and Susanna (Amanda Seyfried) end up learning about it the hard way during a family vacation.

Theo and Susanna take their daughter Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex) to a beautiful and modern house on the Welsh countryside. The local town seems to be in a completely different world, and in a way, it is. Susanna is also quick to point out that the service is incredibly spotty throughout the house. She knows this well as she always has her head buried into her phone. With poor cell service aside, never did Theo and Susanna imagine the horrors living in those walls.

In almost no time the evils within the house begin manipulating the Conroy family. From vivid nightmares to altering their perceptions of time and space, the house begins to chip away at the family and knows exactly what to do to get inside their heads… As the terror intensifies, “You Should Have Left” finds itself with the many familiar horror elements we’ve become used to. From exaggerated noises in every single footstep, movement, floor creak ringing in our ears and in making us hold our breath. The house is equipped with long dark hallways with a singular light directing our eyes to that shadowy figure in the background. As the eerie music, sets the tone as if the house has a heartbeat following the family. 

Writer and director David Koepp gets the highest marks in how he and his production designers Sophie Becher and Megan Elizabeth Bell establish a seriously weird but beautifully built house. Koepp’s attention to detail and solid editing from Derek Ambrosi makes the bobbing and weaving between unnervingly long hallways and through doors feel unsettling. Koepp adds some great camera angles and cinematography to the mix. He masters manipulating light and perspectives and his use of reflections is superb.

The acting here is top notch, especially from it’s star Kevin Bacon. Wise choice for Koepp to come calling on his “Stir Of Echoes” star once again. This is mostly the Kevin Bacon show, who is at his best here as a man trying to suppress his darker tendencies, resisting the urge to go off. Kevin Bacon knows how to play with his expressions and body language as he ranges between “Huh, that’s odd”  and a mild startle. 

Just as he did in “Stir Of Echoes” twenty one years ago, he perfectly depicts the sense of dread and madness, that slowly builds within him as a cause of being trapped in a house that becomes a labyrinthian manifestation of his own nightmares. Although I would’ve liked to have seen him have more material to truly showcase him struggling with his sanity, as by the end it doesn’t feel like Koepp’s script pushed Theo as far as he could’ve been.

Coming close to stealing the show from Kevin Bacon is young actress, Avery Tiiu Essex. She is not only adorable, but is convincingly terrified of all the horrors Ella experiences. She is an undeniably adorable character who will likely earn most of your dedication and sympathy. The father daughter relationship between Essex and Bacon is delightful as their chemistry together is instantly convincing. 

Amanda Seyfried also delivers a decently strong performance, although she gets sidelined and is missing for much for the picture. Just from the films trailers, a little controversy rose with many negatively reacting to the nearly 30 years age difference between Bacon and Seyfried. But not to worry, Koepp not only addresses the age difference early on, but he uses it as a source of frustration for Theo or as a foundation for the marital subplot. 

We get the feels that Theo is uneasy around Susanna, that he’s being pushed out as she absentmindedly denies him entry to her latest movie set. This is where we see Theo being a jealous type, as he watches from afar his wife performing simulated sexual acts with her young co-stars, all the while his own libido is limited at his age. He even becomes obsessed with her phone usage, aware in how often she retreats into her electronic devices. 

But the divide in age isn’t the central idea or focus here, as Koepp is more interested in Theo’s psychological history and nightmare-filled nights. He introduces the character in the midst of a therapeutic meditation “program” via an audio book and he keeps a journal to help express his emotional state, scribbling down his fears and frustrations. 

Koepp doesn’t rely on blood and gore, instead he builds a successful atmosphere within and outside, the walls of the house. Koepp ramps up the tension of a journey into a dimension of sight, sound and mind within a compact psychological horror film, that clocks in at a tight 90 minutes. Koepp could have stretched it a bit more to give us more backstory of the house itself. What backstory we are given is intriguing and I wanted to discover more. 

“You Should Have Left” isn’t much of a fright film, although it can get under your skin. It does much better with troubled characters and the secrets they keep. So you wouldn’t be wrong in comparing it to Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” or in being a nifty throwback to “The Twilight Zone”.

It’s an enormously stylish movie that feels richer than a typical horror flick, but it still heads down that familiar path. And when the nightmares really start cranking in the last half hour, it reaches a fever pitch of hysteria in an orgy of hallucination. At least there’s an ending to tie it all up, while it’s not particularly cinematic and uses a pretty basic, familiar haunted-house setup. “You Should Have Left” is a chilling horror, psychological thriller that benefits from crisp, unpretentious filmmaking, wasting no time on needless filler and getting right to the mystery.

GRADE: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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