When the film You Should Have Left, directed and adapted for the screen by David Koepp, came out it was accused by some of plagiarizing Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. As someone who has read Danielewski’s incredible novel, I can say that there are in fact many similarities between the two. However, You Should Have Left is based on its own book, a novella by Daniel Kehlmann published in 2017. I have not read Kehlmann’s novella but I have read the plot and believe the film to be a loose, if not basic adaptation of the source material, so I think the film can be cleared of all accusations.
Although nothing memorable, You Should Have Left is not a complete loss. Nothing great but not the total disaster some were treating it as. Its biggest problem is that it can’t decide what it wants to be; a psychological thriller, an Inferno type allegory, a basic horror film, or a warning about past mistakes. It crams it all in, yet still somehow manages to underwhelm at a sluggish pace. Coming in at just 93 minutes, it feels much longer. With nothing fully developed and a whole lot of half-matured themes, You Should Have Left makes for a very vanilla picture.
If films were food, You Should Have Left would be slightly undercooked banana bread, spiced with nutmeg but missing that extra something that’ll make it stand out. Streusel topping, walnuts, pecans, extra bananas, etc.
Married couple, Theo (Kevin Bacon) and Susana (Amanda Seyfried) rent a vacation home in Whales with their young daughter Ella. They want to get away, reconnect, and all that. Susana is an actress that is constantly on her phone, much to Theo’s dismay, and the two are often on the lookout for anyone who might recognize Theo. His first wife drowned in a bathtub and he’s spent most of his life being accused of her murder, even if he claims it was an accident. Anyone who’s seen any movie ever knows he either most definitely killed her, or she pulled an Inception/Gone Girl and killed herself to force his hand in something. It can go either way.
Anyway, the house they end up renting was probably built by Daedalus after Satan commissioned him. This is where most of the comparisons with House of Leaves come from. The house shown in You Should Have Left is a labyrinth, larger on the inside than the outside, with its own Minotaur hiding in the center.
The house is what makes the film interesting. It’s a bottomless pit disguised as a relaxing getaway; hallways that change direction, doors that appear then disappear, and a faceless shadow that creeps through the rooms at night. Also inside the house is an old man who seems to know too much about every batch of visitors that comes his way. An old man who looks just like the hobo on top of the train in The Polar Express.
Outside of that though, the film is pretty lifeless. As I said, the best bits are about the house and every time the film returns to it you’ll think that it’s starting to get good. Then the people melodrama returns and it’s back to boring. You Should Have Left tries to tell a story about past mistakes resonating with guilt, it consumes the mind and heart until it swallows you whole. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough to make an impact. The fractures of Theo and Susana’s relationship are foreshadowed almost from the beginning, making their eventual implode not at all surprising, and little Ella, possibly inserted to give the story a touch of innocence, is more irritating then she is endearing. I was almost wishing for her to get lost in the house and never come out.
Kevin Bacon gives it his all. He almost saves the movie, but not even he can direct an aimless plot in the right direction with acting skill alone. Cut the parts with his family and make it all Bacon trapped in a house with the ghosts of his past and maybe then, You Should Have Left would’ve been a great film.
At one point in the film, a local tells Theo a story about the house. That before it was a house, it was a tower built by the Devil where he would collect souls. When God tore down the tower, the Devil built it up again in a different shape. Take that information in and I try to guess how the film ends.(3 / 5)
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