David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, Spider-Man) is the sort of veteran screenwriter so prolific you feel he could probably write a film in his sleep, and in the case of You Should Have Left it really seems like he did just that. And then decided to direct it as well, because for some unfathomable reason he wanted to double up his affiliation with this cinematic embodiment of the dullest shade of beige.
There are many superb entries in the haunted house canon, and the same goes for the “guilty man tries to avoid his conscience” canon, but this dud of a movie is a disappointment on both fronts. To be fully clear, it is a disappointment on all fronts, and does not even have the common courtesy to be so in an entertaining fashion.
You Should Have Left tells the story of Theo (Kevin Bacon) a self-absorbed middle-aged man whose primary occupation seems to be being as bitter and unenergized as a black cup of decaf, who takes his much younger actress wife Susanna (Amanda Seyfried) and their daughter Ella (Avery Sussex) on a rustic family bonding trip in the Welsh countryside. Their abode of choice is a brutalist concrete eyesore that looks like a prison with windows. As I’m sure you suspect by this point, their vacation goes swimmingly.
The thing is that, before marrying Susanna, Theo was married to another woman who happened to conveniently drown in the bathtub around the same time their marriage was falling apart. While Theo vehemently denied rumors of any involvement in her death, he’s been having lots of nightmares lately—nightmares that, especially since coming to a charming cement brick of a country home, seem like they might be more than just nightmares.
The characters here are so underdeveloped they’re basically blobs of primordial soup. Part of the problem might be the film aligning itself so strongly with Theo, a man-child so narcissistic that even when he’s attempting to express feelings of guilt, he can only do so in terms of himself. “I never really deserved to have your mom,” he tells Ella remorsefully after his falling out with Susanna, because, of course, that’s exactly how you talk about a person who’s not actually a thing, and commentary that totally makes sense when describing a relationship involving two active participants. Ella, meanwhile, is the most intolerably annoying sort of precocious child character, not really a pint-sized human person so much as a button-nosed plot device who is precisely as ignorant or eerily observant as is most convenient for any given scene, always there to ask whatever soul-searching questions about death, goodness, etc. need asking. She is molded to the shape of whatever space needs filling in each scene with nothing consistent enough to be called a personality.
While all the characters are flat, Susanna, in particular, is a non-entity who just comes across as vaguely impatient, or maybe that’s just Seyfried coming through since the role gives her absolutely nothing to do. When Theo finds evidence of an extramarital affair and demands she leave the house halfway through the film, it feels like Koepp realized while typing up page 45 or so that he forgot to come up with a plot for her and decided she might as well just exit stage left at that point.
Perhaps the most interesting scene in the film—or at least, the scene that comes the closest to being something interesting—takes place before the “action” really gets started, when Theo goes to visit Susanna while she’s shooting a movie, only to be stopped by a PA, who tells him it’s a closed set (it soon becomes clear that they’re filming a sex scene) and no visitors are allowed, much to Theo’s evident frustration. I don’t know if making said PA the only Black person on the set, stuck with basically the worst job, is meant as an intentional commentary on the state of film production demographics or a Freudian slip, but there it is. As soon as they make it to the actual haunted house really settles into its snooze-worthy mediocrity.
Overall, from its “old guy with younger trophy wife haunted by first marriage” premise to its cast of unlikable characters, You Should Have Left feels like the generic cousin of The Lodge, released earlier this year, which is also a slog of a movie but, unlike this one, does feature some semblance of artistry and original thought. I would honestly rather stare at the wall of my apartment for two hours than watch either again, but I digress. The point is that You Should Have Left is precisely what you’ll be telling yourself if you make the terrible mistake of watching this nothing-burger of a movie.
Header Image Source: Universal Pictures