You Should Have Left (2020)

The House Finds You.

Although David Koepp is mostly known for his screenwriting credits, having penned hits such as Jurassic Park (1993) and Spider-Man (2002), he’s directed a handful of films, too. He adapted Stephen King’s Secret Window in 2004, with Johnny Depp in the lead, then re-teamed with Depp ten years later for the box office and critical dud Mortdecai (2015). Koepp’s best film as a writer-director, however, remains 1999’s mystery-thriller Stir of Echoes, which starred Kevin Bacon as a man who began to see strange visions after being hypnotized by his sister-in-law.

‘Um, what type of movie are we making again?’

Now, two decades later, Koepp and Bacon reunite for another horror film, the haunted-house thriller You Should Have Left, which is produced by Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions. The result is a short, sharp chiller that doesn’t do anything overly original but manages to scare and entertain in equal measure.

Loosely adapted from Daniel Kehlmann’s 2017 novel of the same name, You Should Have Left follows a well-off retired banker with a scandalous past, Theo Conroy (Kevin Bacon), who became famous after the trial of his wife’s death was publicized all over the news. Having been cleared of the crime, Theo has since tried to move on, listening to meditation tapes to clear his mind and writing in his journal to help clarify his thoughts. Theo’s also remarried an actress much younger than he is named Susanna (Amanda Seyfried) and lives with her and their kid daughter Ella (Avery Essex) in Hollywood. With Theo a little insecure about his wife’s age and her movie-star career — he turns up to visit her on set and has to hear her fake orgasming for a sex scene she’s shooting — he decides that they should get away from it all to relax before Susanna’s next gig. They book a striking secluded country home in Wales and head there for some R&R.

Being a father can be frightening!

When they arrive, Theo and Susanna find the place eerily bare, its beige brick walls devoid of any picture frames or ‘life.’ Theo also struggles to fall asleep, waking up in the middle of the night to find strange doors and hallways, hidden rooms, and lights that refuse to switch off. When he does doze off, however, Theo has nightmares where he gets lost in the blocky abode, and it becomes somewhat of a nightmarish maze, seeing visions that threaten the life of his little girl. But, as Theo begins to learn more and more about the house and its caretaker, a mysterious man who walks around with a cane named Stetler, he quickly discovers that it might already be too late to escape from its nefarious grip.

Just like their Stir of Echoes collaboration, Koepp and Bacon seem to be a perfect fit for this sort of creepy haunting story. Koepp sets the tone with an unnerving opening scene where he gives us a glimpse into Theo’s unstable mindset and lets us know that all is not as it seems. Throughout the course of the film, Koepp utilizes his location and its boxy design to create some genuine moments of suspense, with viewers never quite sure what’s real and what’s being imagined. True, we get a few generic scares, such as the twisted woman in the bathtub, but filmmakers do a solid enough job in building tension to make this ghost story worthwhile. It helps that the cinematography by Angus Hudson, Cashback (2006), is very good, the same goes for its real-life set, the majority of the film shot in an actual house in Llanbister, Wales, which you can actually spend a night in — it’s been enhanced with CGI and whatnot, but this is basically it.

Don’t give me that look!

The whole thing is anchored by Kevin Bacon, who gives a first-rate performance — this isn’t a paycheck gig. You see, while Theo is not a nice guy, Bacon makes us root for him anyway. We feel his frustration and jealousy when his younger wife is texting away to God knows who and understand his paranoia when he secretly searches through her phone and computer. We’re by his side when he’s trying to be a good ‘Baba’ to his young daughter, even though he’s finding it hard. And we’re with him when he starts to spin out and begins to realize that things in the house just don’t add up — it’s got too many doors, its angles don’t line up, and its measurements are totally off. It’s an excellent turn and a real showcase for the 61-year-old Bacon, who proves that can still carry a film.

Likewise, Amanda Seyfried, In Time (2011), whom I adore, elevates a pretty stock character, playing nicely off Bacon — whether she’s making a crack about his age or quietly seducing him with those gigantic green eyes, she’s great. What’s more, their relationship feels legitimate and lived-in, like each of these people has a past that exists outside of the film’s brisk 93-minutes. Then there’s newcomer Avery Essex who is terrific as the pair’s daughter Ella. Not only does she seem like an actual little girl (not a movie-kid), but the young actress manages to sell some of the most emotional moments in the narrative as she tries to bond and connect with her unwell father.

‘Careful out there kid, it’s gonna get pretty spooky.’

At the end of the day, You Should Have Left’s only real shortcomings are the fact that it doesn’t do anything new. It offers some commentary on how guilt can manifest inside a person and destroy them, and how people can be just as haunted as buildings, but for the most part, this is stock standard horror fare. We’ve seen movies where evil houses taunt visitors and turn their demons against them — think the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) — and Koepp employs the usual tricks and techniques that seasoned horror fans have come to know all too well (jump scares, spooky lighting and so on and so on). Still, this is a neat little package with a nifty cast, killer set up and a relatively satisfying finale. If this type of thing is your jam, You Should Have Left is a place worth checking into.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

You Should Have Left is released through Universal Pictures Australia