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Kevin Bacon is one of Hollywood’s finest actors, and his work in the horror genre has showcased some of his best and most iconic performances. The original Friday The 13th was one of the first feature productions to hire him, and that began a cycle of him making some really fantastic scary movies every ten years or so, with titles including the 1990 double feature of Flatliners and Tremors, and 2000’s Hollow Man.
Recognizing this legacy, any fan would reasonably hope that his latest, David Koepp’s You Should Have Left would add to it (acknowledging that the project reunites Bacon with the writer/director for the first time since 1999’s Stir Of Echoes) – but that’s an expectation that should be readied for disappointment. An actor can only be as good as the material he’s given, and the material here is lousy.
Based on the book of the same name by author Daniel Kehlmann (though not really, as Koepp’s adaptation significantly alters the source material), You Should Have Left introduces us to Theo Conroy (Kevin Bacon), a former banker with a dark and very public past that causes him to receive death stares from anyone who recognizes him. He’s trying to move on with his life, specifically by focusing more on his family – including his totally naïve daughter Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex) and much-younger actress wife, Suzanna (Amanda Seyfried).
Stressed by constant public pressure, and ever suspicious about his constantly-texting wife, Theo requests that they rent a remote house in Wales to try and get away from the world, and Suzanna agrees. What they discover when they arrive is a thoroughly modern building with a surprise labyrinth-like design inside, and on the very first night there is discovered weirdness, with Theo following a series of lit halls to a laundry room that has an ominous Polaroid posted on the wall. Naturally, the spookiness only escalates from there – but the number of legitimate scares sadly does not.
Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried can’t do a lot with so little provided to them from the material.
To the film’s credit, the production design is outstanding. Taking a page out of The Shining’s playbook, there is a cool unsettling feeling that comes with impossible construction – where the interior doesn’t match the interior – and it’s compelling to watch it morph as it further consumes its inhabitants. It’s the kind of setting that is expressive enough to qualify as a character within the story… and unfortunately it’s the most interesting one that the film presents.
As much as you want to like Kevin Bacon in any role, You Should Have Left makes it pretty damn hard. There’s a certain failure to read the room from a zeitgeist perspective, as the film tries to be playfully mysterious for a long time regarding what it was that Theo did that made everyone in the world hate him. This envelops the character with a creepy vibe, all while the movie props him up as the protagonist, and it’s a circumstance where the movie makes matters worse by outfitting him with an unpleasant repressed rage.
Making matters worse, all of it also reflects poorly on Suzanna. The film is smart enough to point out the 27-year age difference between Theo and his wife, highlighting it as a source of conflict in their relationship, but what it fails to adequately provide is an explanation for why they got together in the first place. It’s a source of distracting confusion at the start of the movie as the mystery around Theo is maintained, and it’s an issue that’s only exacerbated once the answers to that mystery are revealed and still no further details regarding the couple’s history is provided.
Every creative move in You Should Have Left has been done before, and the dialogue is rough.
Complementing the weak characters in You Should Have Left are a weak story, and poorly-written dialogue. It makes effort at times to be clever, throwing a bit of non-linear storytelling, and a lurking creep named Stetler into the mix, but the efforts turn out to be tricks that we’ve seen in plenty of other films before, and it renders the twists obvious and dull. Further undercutting scenes are conversations that feel stilted and have characters stating the obvious; or even worse there are the cringe-worthy moments where Theo is alone and talking out loud to himself so that the audience knows how he is feeling. At first you question reality wondering if Kevin Bacon is giving an uncharacteristically mediocre performance, but the truth is that it’s just the script.
You Should Have Left isn’t scary; it’s tired.
As a horror film, the cardinal sin that You Should Have Left commits is that it’s simply not scary at all. For reasons mentioned above one can call it “eerie,” but every obvious effort it makes to actively frighten the audience inspires eye-rolls. Letting the look of the house and its changing floorplan do all of the heavy lifting, there is no creativity demonstrated with the cinematography. It feels like a film trapped in the techniques of the late 1990s, which isn’t even excused by the notoriously limited Blumhouse budget given that this isn’t exactly a story that is pouring money into any expansive set pieces or an expansive cast. It’s a movie that desperately needs flair and style, but it has none.
The title of the film comes from a scribbled note that Theo discovers in his journal mid-way through his stay at the remote home in Wales, suggesting that he missed his chance to escape, but it’s also non-purposefully a direct message for the audience, and ultimately a perfect example of a case where a movie perfectly names itself. When recounting Kevin Bacon’s great contributions to the horror genre in the future, this one will purposefully be left off the list, and we’ll just have to wait for the next one and hope that it does the job that You Should Have Left fails to do.