Review: 'You Should Have Left' is too familiar to frighten

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Kevin Bacon in "You Should Have Left."
Reflections of the way we used to be: Kevin Bacon takes his family for a holiday in a freaky house in "You Should Have Left." (Universal Pictures)

If there's one thing we've learned from horror movies, it's when unexplained events turn sinister and you get a mysterious warning to beat it, you probably should. Characters choosing to ignore such sage advice do so at their own risk. So do audiences.

In "You Should Have Left," Kevin Bacon plays Theo, a notorious banker with a much-younger second wife, Susanna, an actress (played by Amanda Seyfried), and a terribly cute young daughter, Ella (played by Avery Tiiu Essex). It's difficult to describe much of their circumstance without spoilers, but Theo decides to take the brood to an isolated house in Wales before Susanna starts her next film in London. Bad dreams and weird stuff ensue, with lots of blatant foreshadowing in freaky images. And there are warnings.

The film works best in its dramatic moments, with these skilled actors presenting a seemingly happy — if somewhat incongruous — family whose cracks begin to show. Not that the characters are explored with particular depth in the script by director David Koepp ("Secret Window," and writer of many hit screenplays), but Seyfried and Bacon make us believe there's a relationship there, warts and all. It can be a pleasure to see an actor of Bacon's experience bringing his "been there, done that" ease to a genre film. He also produced. Seyfried gets good mileage out of limited material, especially in moments of annoyance.

Unfortunately, the movie's thriller elements amount to pale reflections of many other works. Viewers will find most of the scare tactics familiar, from unsynchronized shadows and mirror images to the standard, ear-buffeting volume stings. The sound design, often an indicator of how strong the material is, is overzealous; the visual effects draw from a threadbare bag. The plot twists, especially the final reveals, have been seen before (naming the stories, films and TV shows would be telling). It's the kind of story that relies on characters who know something bad is up, choosing to explore the impossible depths of a spooky house alone. Many viewers will be slapping their foreheads during the "Come on, why would you do that?" parts of the program.

Production designer Sophie Becher looks to have had some fun creating the soul maze of the house, the slightly off rooms and endless, labyrinthine corridors where no good can happen. In one striking tableau, her team and cinematographer Angus Hudson turn a swinging light fixture and descending stair railings into a web of moving shadows reminiscent of an updated "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari."

For those who've plumbed the depths of Netflix during this pandemic and are desperate for something new and creepy, "You Should Have Left" might serve to pass an evening. For those looking for something original and memorable, this ain't it.





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