In Brief: A very well shot and directed horror story with a plot looks and feels like a dozen other — and equally — not-so-good horror story movies.
The good thing about horror flicks released by Blumhouse Productions is producers who know that horror movies ought not run more than 90-minutes. Unfortunately, sometimes a horror movie of any minutes in length lands is too much.
That’s the case with You Should Have Left.
Kevin Bacon and Mama Mia’s Amanda Seyfried star as a May-December couple struggling with their relationship. Theo’s age and inability to perform some husbandly duties has added stress to their lives. Plus, she’s a movie star and always around men who can — um — fulfill those duties.
As a cure for their struggle, Theo, Susanna and their precocious daughter Ella head for Wales and some much needed R&R. Since this is a horror movie, you are not surprised when they accidentally rent a haunted house.
Demonic things happen.
Already most of you are yawning. We’ve been there and done that way too many times. As soon as you know the place is haunted, the predictability level of the movie goes up.
You Should Have Left is written and directed by David Koepp. His directing is terrific but Koepp’s ability to direct actors and his screenplay are the movie’s biggest let down.
Bacon suffers the worst. Theo’s very negative past drives his dreaming. They’re nightmares that are so vivid they seem real. He often listens on headphones to a course of some sort that attempts to explain the bad dreams and help him cope.
Coping is not Theo’s thing.
He’s green with jealousy. Susanna is beautiful and a much-in-demand movie star. Theo is sure she has a boyfriend. He snoops through her things but can’t really find proof. So Theo is left to wonder and it’s driving him crazy.
With very little to do in a shallow, been-there, done-that plot, Bacon is forced in scene after scene to look shocked, worried, scared, stressed and angry. Each reaction to those emotions is done in the same exact way. After awhile, you’re as bored as Bacon seems to be in each of his scenes.
As for Seyfried. Susanna is a cookie cutter character. She doesn’t have much to do except fill script holes and push Theo’s paranoia.
Then there’s the kid. Koepp and the producers hired Avery Tiiu Essex to play the couple’s child Ella. She shouts too many of her lines. Essex shouts so many of them, and is so irritating that early on you wish whatever demon is haunting the place would grab her and keep her for the rest of the movie.
Part of her problem is Koepp’s inability to direct actors so you can’t totally blame Essex for her bad performance. That said, even without the shouting, she’s horrible and is proof that some kid actors — cute as they are — ought not pursue acting as a career.
While Koepp’s plot — based on the Daniel Kehlmann novel — isn’t very good, and his ability to direct actors pretty much sucks, I do want to commend him on the style of his movie.
Those familiar with Koepp know he isn’t known for his directing. It is his writing that has gotten Koepp a lot of attention. Koepp has been involved in the scripts of some huge movies. Many of them — War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and the original Jurassic Park in 1993 — were directed by Steven Spielberg.
Koepp also co-wrote Inferno, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Angels and Demons, Mission: Impossible, Carlito’s Way and directed Bacon in the horror film, Stir of Echoes in 1999.
Though Spielberg isn’t directly involved, Koepp’s use of the camera and visual effects has Spielberg’s fingerprints all over. This isn’t a complaint. Visually, You Should Have Left is very well done and fun to watch.
It is Koepp’s choice of a set that makes the movie most palatable. Usually ghost stories are done in creepy old homes. Koepp’s is set is a creepy new one. It’s a maze-like brick home with a brick interior. Corridors go everywhere and nowhere. It’s easy to get lost in this monstrous home full of monstrous evil.
Most of us would tour this vacation home for two-minutes and leave.
That’s the beauty of the set. It is horrifying. But not much else is horrifying, or even that interesting. So-so dialogue accompanies the so-so-performances and leads us to one conclusion. Koepp, Bacon and Seyfried should have left “You Should Have Left as a novel and found something else to pass their time.
Unless you’re a huge fan of horror and can’t resist films like this, you, too should leave You Should Have Left alone.
Director: David Koepp
Stars: Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, Avery Tiiu Essex
A pretty bland but beautifully done horror movie. Looks good. Not much substance. Give this one a 1 1/2 on the Friday Flicks with Gary 0 to 5 scale.
You can find You Should Have Left on several streaming sources.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.