You Should Have Left reunites writer/director David Koepp with actor/lead Kevin Bacon to tell the story of a retired banker tried by a jury of his own fears. Their previous collaboration, Stir of Echoes, was a taught thriller that found a man unraveling a mystery (and his own mind in the process) by literally unearthing secrets buried under his house. While You Should Have Left has a similar throughline, its unearthing of mystery is much more metaphorical. Rather than jackhammering his way to an awful secret hidden underneath a happy home, we are given a cruel and unwelcoming house that reflects the darkness of its visitors back at them.
In a lot of ways, You Should Have Left is a modern re-imagining of classic haunted manor stories. The film knows the tropes, and calls them out, but doesn’t seem to have much use for them beyond paying tribute to its gothic predecessors. Everything you need to tell a classic bone-chilling radio play is present. There are impossible angles, physics-defying floorplans, misbehaving lamps and labyrinthian corridors (there are even rooms that play fast and loose with time! Yes please, Mr. Spooky House!) but it all lays flat like a blueprint for a future addition. Without the connective tissue of a compelling character arc to carry us from suspicion to resolution, You Should Have Left only plays like a riff-o-rama of genre hallmarks.
“You Should Have Left is a modern re-imagining of classic haunted manor stories […but] plays like a riff-o-rama of genre hallmarks.”
Theo Conroy (Kevin Bacon) is a man with a dark past. And like anyone accused but acquitted of murdering his wife in a very public trial, his life is now built on suspicion. He suspects everyone he meets is secretly judging him and when that’s not a concern, he busies himself suspecting his new wife, Susanna (Amanda Seyfried), of hiding her own dark secrets. As the shadow that looms of Theo only continues to grow, he suggests taking a quiet vacation away from there problems. You know, one of those quaint English getaways that all tortured souls take before they’re ripped apart by ghosties. Don’t forget to pack the skeletons in the back of the closet!
Theo and Susanna‘s daughter Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex) is old enough now to begin building her own suspicions of her father, and before long she learns just what brand of boogeyman he is to the rest of the world. She flat out asks her mother “why do people hate daddy so much?” which gives Seyfried time to really shine as a young mother struggling with deciding which truths she wants to share with her daughter. Bacon too does a great job as a father who has aged out of his own family, desperately meditating and journalling his feelings so they don’t explode out of him at the breakfast table. There is a tension that runs through these characters’ relationships that I wish was matched by the supernatural horror the film promises. With only fleeting glimpses at what haunts Theo, we’re left with a handful of bad vibes that go slump in the night.
You Should Have Left is clearly made by people that lovehaunted house stories, for people that love haunted house stories, I just wish it tried to do less. The entire third act is scattershot with ideas that only tickle the ivories of a grand piano capable of producing operatic symphonies. It has some great things to say about how children have the ability to show us everything good we are capable of, while not shying away from the fear that the worst parts of ourselves are a burden they will someday be asked to shoulder. But for every dark theme the movie presents, it’s met with a series of underutilized horror elements that are as quickly disregarded by the characters as they are by the story itself. Theo discovers an ominous message in his private journal warning him to leave the house, but the discovery of the ghostly messenger is as unclimactic to the audience as it is to Theo.
Haunted house films are generally constructed as a series of odd and eerie happenings that build a sense of unease to tease a truly impossible climax. You Should Have Left has all the trappings of a neo-gothic tragedy but it’s never cruel enough to it’s lead to really make you feel anything for him. He’s tortured, but unpunished. I genuinely thought there were another ten or fifteen minutes coming before the credits rolled. Even though there is some revelation and reveal in the end that leaves us with a better understanding of who these people are and what truly haunted them, it is missing a grand finale. Lost in a maze of dead-ends and detours, You Should Have Left is a ghost story that will forever be haunted by the film it could have been.
“You Should Have Left is a ghost story that will forever be haunted by the film it could have been.”
From Blumhouse and Universal Pictures,You Should Have Left is available on Demand now in a continuation of 2020’s COVID-19 related Home Premieres. Written and directed by David Koepp, the supernatural horror stars Amanda Seyfried (Jennifer’s Body), Kevin Bacon (Tremors), and Avery Tiiu Essex. Let us know what you thought of the film over on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!
Review: YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT (2020)
You Should Have Left has all the trappings of a neo-gothic tragedy but it's never cruel enough to it's lead to really make you feel anything for him. He's tortured, but unpunished. I genuinely thought there were another ten or fifteen minutes coming before the credits rolled. Even though there is some revelation and reveal in the end that leaves us with a better understanding of who these people are and what truly haunted them, it is missing a grand finale. Lost in a maze of dead-ends and detours, You Should Have Left is a ghost story that will forever be haunted by the film it could have been.