I have previously written only two reviews of films as they were released on video: Dumbo and Fifty Shades of Grey. This is inline with those. A family moves into a house and weird things start to happen. Accomplished films with this premise in recent memory; Insidious, Paranormal Activity, and Sinister have all been produced by one man Jason Blum. So it makes some sense for Blum to hire a guy like David Koepp, who for his eighth directed feature re-teams with the star of sophomore film Stir of Echoes from 1998: Kevin Bacon. The resulting problem with this material doubles as its greatest strength, familiarity.
I’ve talked about emotional chronology in movies. Put to best effect in 2019’s Little Women. Writer/ Director Greta Gerwig knows the audience has seen some version of this story before so instead of using basic narrative chronology it instead jumps back and forth in time and space for maximum emotional punch. Like an A+ student studying for a test anyone can open a book to a random page and the student in this case the audience, who are horror experts can guess exactly what’s going on. This has led to what many critics have described this film as six different movies in one. It has the haunted dreams of Stir of Echoes, the haunted house of Poltergeist, the marital rift of Antichrist, the modern design of houses from Sinister & Hereditary and the personal hauntings of Insidious films. Despite the multiple trappings You Should Have Left is always visually and spatially coherent. Towards the end of the film Theo runs through a hallway and is transported to many different places in the house. Koepp doesn’t need dwell on these surprises too much because the beauty of the film nicely photographed by Angus Hudson is that its images are so clear cut they don’t require explanation. It’s also a credit to editor Derek Ambrosi that I never felt as lost as the characters did in the film. I was willing to go through any door or passageway the film went. And I wish the filmmakers went further even if it abandoned logic.
Kevin Bacon’s character Theo (the protagonist in the screenplay I’m writing!) ends up with the opposite result. He is haunted by the ghost of his previous marriage and when he finds a house to rent with his wife and daughter the new setting brings with it haunting dreams and time jumps. Time must have skipped for Theo because despite being sixty one years old he has a thirty five year old wife and a six year old daughter. It’s because of this age difference I found the central relationship hard to believe and Theo’s relationship with his daughter seems distant in a way that diminishes the emotional stakes. The filmmakers try to make up for this by making his wife Susanna (Amanda Seyfried) an actress who does sex scenes and may have a fling with one of her costars and giving Bacon the backstory a previous marriage turned deadly but they could have developed this aspect a bit more. For all the tension mined out of their differences you have a hard time believing their marriage in the first place or that his daughter is his biologically. Making him a step dad would have been another cliche Koepp could have indulged in along with making Theo a writer, an artist or an architect since all his original ideas with the exception of a modern house don’t seem to work as well as weaponizing cliches. Using the audience’s familiarity with the trappings of genre against them with the lack of phone service, the overflowing bathtub, impossible shapes, nightmares and dead ends is the way to go that the movie only hints at.