You Should Have Left (***) doesn’t stay long enough

You Should Have Left – 2020

Written and Directed by David Koepp based on the novel by Daniel Kehlmann
Starring Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, Avery Essex, Geoff Bell, Lowri-Ann Richards

You Should Have Left is a good story that could leave one wondering about the basis of one’s reality. Bacon is Theo Conroy, a widowed writer who takes his second wife and their child to a vacation home in Wales. Once there, he makes discoveries that leave him questioning his sanity.

When the story starts, he’s already the victim of nightmares. These dreams are the kind that can make any man feel helpless. The only thing a man has no defense for happens to him on a nightly basis.

His second wife, Susanna (Seyfried) is on another plane of existence. She is a Hollywood star and gives him every appearance of happiness.

His daughter Ella (Essex) is a bridge between the couple. She feels her father’s pain, almost soaking in it. At the same time, she plays with her mother, acting as a child would.

The dynamic between the three is intriguing. One can truly feel the bond of blood, despite appearances. There are no secrets between the three, emotionally. They just don’t announce the words.

It is clear Theo and Susanna have some work to reach a one to one communication. Having Ella clearly express her feelings through pointed questions and simple gestures like holding a hand only delays which feels like an inevitable clash.

The couple decides to rent a house as an airbnb for a trip to England in advance of Susanna’s filming there. The house seems bigger on the inside than out, and overall is astoundingly sparse. The creepiness is in the vast open space that seems to lead nowhere.

For those expecting a typical haunted house tale, you will not get this here. This is more a study of human wheels of guilt, suspicion, repentance and forgiveness. It may not scare you at all, but it certainly does allow room to examine your conscience.

Bacon is excellent, working with Koepp for the second time in over 21 years. It’s amazing to see how old and vulnerable he seems at this point. His performance is brave as his work in The Woodsman. It is unclear whether he is good, bad or just like the rest of us. He is walking wounded. This is clear. For how many wounds is he responsible?

Essex is remarkable as Ella. Her performance is radiant, mournful and still filled with the hope of youth. It’s a testament to whomever worked with her that she presents the most mature outlook in the film. She gives the appearance of sad wisdom, but she is apt to skip and jump at any time.

Seyfried plays Susanna as a person who loves her spouse, but doesn’t feel like being tied into his misery. This is not an altogether unreasonable response to the stimuli she receives from their relationship.

Still, this is presented as a scary movie. Ultimately, the scares are few and far between. Most of what we see develop, however well acted, is predictable. The exploration of the house and the mystery of Theo’s past is handled brusquely and without a significant amount of exploration. As a movie, this feels shorter than one would want to experience, given the interesting premise.

If you see this, wait a bit until the price goes down. It’s not a wasted evening, to be sure. It’s only a waste if you spend more than rental price.

(*** out of *****)

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