I think the message of writer/director David Koepp’s latest, You Should Have Left, is that in a perfect world, toxic men all get their comeuppance in the end. As we all know, this isn’t true, but it’s seeming more true as the weeks and months go on. Even still, nothing about the climax of this film feels particularly satisfying in terms of someone getting their due, and that’s probably because nothing about the beginning or middle of the movie is all that great either. Koepp built his reputation in film as a writer of such major works as Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, Spider-Man, and Panic Room, but between these writing gigs, he’s also managed to squeeze in directing modestly budgeted films including Premium Rush and his first collaboration with Kevin Bacon, the highly effective, Chicago-set horror outing Stir of Echoes.
Produced by the genre house Blumhouse Productions, You Should Have Left opens promisingly enough with a snapshot of a marriage in trouble. Bacon’s Theo Conroy is listening to anger-management tapes and attempting to get his jealousy issues under control, which he finds difficult when actress wife Susanna (Amanda Seyfried) happens to be working on a sex scene when he arrives on set one day to visit her. But fear not: his simmering rage at the thought of his wife faking an orgasm with another man is quelled when she surprises him with in-car sex on the way home as a way to soothe his fragile ego. She seems alright with this arrangement, so who am I to judge?
Since production on her film is set to take a two-week break while it moves locations to the UK, the couple decides to take themselves and their six-year-old daughter Ella (Avery Essex) to Wales for a bit of quality family time. It’s within the slightly crooked walls of this architectural wonder of a house that things start to go sideways. There are hints of The Shining peppered throughout the film, although Koepp (who adapted the best-selling novel by Daniel Kehlmann) never even approaches making the house a character of its own, even as new hallways, basements and other menacing corners reveal themselves. The residents of the nearby town don’t help or warn the family in any way, but the indication is that the house actually found the Conroys rather than the Conroys finding the house online (there’s a brief conversation about who sent who the link to the rental listing, but there are bigger issues facing the family that need to be dealt with).
In a better, less choppy film, the confusing geography of the house, the way that Theo often loses time in different rooms, and the reminders that seem to be built into the walls of Theo’s troubled first marriage (which ended with the accidental death of his first wife) would have been the metaphoric foundation upon which this story of a crumbling marriage would be told. The pieces are there, but right when it seems they might come together, Koepp goes for a cheap scare or a nonsensical vision/nightmare, rendering most of what we’ve just seen inconsequential. And no matter how many creepy or downright terrifying things happen in the walls of this place, nobody gets the idea to leave until it’s too late (and long after Theo finds a scrawled message in his journey that he needs to get out of the house immediately).
I’m sure there’s a fascinating conversation to be had with Koepp about the deeper meanings and symbolism woven throughout his version of You Should Have Left, but very little of that actually exists in the finished movie. Bacon’s character is basically a dick trying not to be a dick, but his dickish tendencies always seem to get the better of him. Seyfried is fine here, but she is so busy playing a character acting slightly guilty of something but constantly proclaiming her innocence to her suspicious husband that we never really learn anything about Susanna except that she’s there to prop up her unacceptable husband. There’s a sequence where she’s in the bath while he’s going through her electronics, searching for proof that she’s cheating on him, and it just makes you lose all faith that the film is going to get any better before it ends.
The real evil forces that may or may not dwell in the house aren’t external, but are triggered by self doubt and emotional stability. I wish Koepp and company had taken the time to dig a little deeper into that and explore how a type of masculinity basically ruins everything, no matter how patient those around the male may be.
The film is now available on VOD.
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