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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.

Kevin Bacon staring at…Kevin Bacon

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.

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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.

Kevin Bacon stands in front of a picture of a house while standing inside that same house.

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.

Kevin Bacon…and a dead woman

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 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Pictures are property of Blumhouse Productions

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Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

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Movies n TV

The Beach House, a Film Review

The Beach House (2019) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown starring Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, and Jake Weber.

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The Beach House (2020) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown. This film stars Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, and Maryann Nagel. As of this review, this film is only available on Shudder.

Desperate to rekindle their strained love, Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) escape to a beach getaway. They soon learn to find that family friends of Randall鈥檚 father, Mitch (Jake Weber), and Jane (Maryann Nagel), also had a similar idea. After getting used to each other, a mysterious fog engulfs the town. Unfortunately, they realize too late the danger they find themselves in.

A woman with her mouth agape. Behind her is a dark background. Next to her reads, "The Beach House." Below is a scenic beach with a mountain in the distance.
The Beach House Alternative Cover Art

What I Like

Body horror gets under my skin, and The Beach House certainly lives up to the standard. There鈥檚 something magical about creatures terraforming your body to their preferred environment, turning humans into nothing more than conscious prisoners in their own flesh. While I wouldn鈥檛 consider this film the most traumatic or unsettling example, it utilizes wonderfully grotesque scenes.

Aside from the body horror, the film drops a few Cosmic Horror鈥搊r Lovecraftian鈥搗ibes that go together perfectly. Another favored genre of mine, this combination ensures the odds are overwhelmingly against our human leads.

Beyond the grotesque, visuals might not overwhelm but certainly succeed in their goal. Several scenes provide an intentionally tranquil experience that contrasts with the grotesques and improves their effectiveness.

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In terms of performance, each actor hits their mark. While some roles require less effort, each contributes to the plot as intended. The standout performance goes to Liana Liberato鈥檚 Emily, who acts as co-lead. She simply has the most to work with and lives up to the part.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings

As 鈥渂ody horror鈥 should indicate, this film will hit hard for the more squeamish viewer. While horror by nature has some amount of grotesque, body horror brings that grotesque to the next level. While I don鈥檛 particularly find The Beach House hitting harder than its competition, it certainly respects its chosen genre.

Woman looks shocked or horrified. Bushes or trees make up the background.
Liana Liberato as Emily

What I Dislike or Considerations

A few scenic montages may hit or miss depending on your interpretation. While I have my own theories, that speculation goes beyond the scope of this review. Many of these scenes overlap more philosophical conversations and musings that may annoy or add layers. This strategy seems a common practice in Cosmic Horror, which forces characters to rationalize the irrational.

It鈥檚 hard for me to understand how secretive or known this event is supposed to be in the film鈥檚 world. Individuals know something outside of the town, with evidence implying governmental knowledge. This information creates a contrivance鈥損erhaps, even a plot hole鈥揵ecause the characters had to reach this isolated town without any opposition.

One of the visuals didn鈥檛 exactly grab me. While I won鈥檛 go into too much detail, an effect looked too visually similar to a common animal that barely survives rain. It鈥檚 hard to be threatened by that. It also doesn鈥檛 exactly match up with some of the other visuals. Even the creatures that look similar to it still look different enough to provide a more alien assumption.

There are moments when the infected chase our main characters by crawling at them. While the context works, with injured characters helping to sell them, I can鈥檛 help but find these scenes amusing as opposed to frightening. Yes, it鈥檚 certainly visually different from the plethora of zombies out there, but it鈥檚 also less frightening than zombies that leisurely walk to their targets.

Final Thoughts

The Beach House combines cosmic and body horror to create an uncomfortable film that tests its characters. For those who enjoy these genres, it will certainly entertain you, but I doubt it will frighten you. I imagine the mood to watch it again might strike me, but I鈥檓 not entirely certain it will stand the test of time. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

If this movie suits your fancy and you want more, Honeymoon seems an appropriate recommendation.

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Movies n TV

Every Secret Thing, a Film Review

Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener, based on Laura Lippman鈥檚 novel.

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Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener. This R-rated film stars Diane Lane, Danielle Macdonald, Dakota Fanning, and Elizabeth Banks. Based on Laura Lippman鈥檚 novel of the same name, the film adaptation is accessible through MAX and DirecTV.

When a little girl goes missing, Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) spirals into an all too familiar tale. As pressure mounts, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) become the leading suspects. The strained frenemies unravel under the attention and reminders of their shared past.

Laura Lippman stands out at the top of the cover, over a black background. Every Secret Thing appearing over a pool
Every Secret Thing Book Cover

What I Like

The film unravels in a non-chronological structure but makes it easy for the viewer to follow. It helps that the age difference clearly divides the younger actors, who change actors. One casting choice resembles their older counterpart, and the acting reflects a strong direction for their shared role.

Unreliable narration remains expertly communicated with scenes that change perspectives depending on whose perspective we view them from. This choice adds a reason to view the film twice, providing extra ambiguity for some of these events.

The camera gets up close and personal to an uncomfortable degree, which almost certainly presses the actors鈥 performances. This choice places the viewer in the character’s perspective and limits us from others’ perspectives to add extra credence to these biases.

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Every Secret Thing provides a spiraling mystery that unravels with several twists and turns. Assuming the novel provided the outline, this film executes these points and keeps a consistently engaging experience throughout the runtime.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings

Child abuse and neglect remain the central plot points of Every Secret Thing. Little of this abuse appears in scenes, but there is no escaping the danger children are in throughout the film.

Self-harm and suicide are shown throughout the film (once in the case of suicide) through one specific character. It isn鈥檛 glorified or romanticized nor addressed with particular sensitivity. For those sensitive to these subjects, it might be triggering.

Racism, the assumed motive for the bi-racial victims, plays a small role in the film’s narrative. However, character motives remain more complex, but going further spoils some elements. This film decision does create the reality that bi-racial children are the victims of child neglect and abuse in the film with little additional context. It does invite uncomfortable speculation, but speculation it would be.

Sexual assault is another concern for viewers, specifically statutory rape. This issue seems particularly mismanaged, considering the survivor remains an antagonist. One can be both survivor of assault and an antagonist of a film without needing to discredit the assault. While little appears of this issue, and the manipulation angle can indicate a perspective shift, it鈥檚 hard to refute how the film wants to represent this attack.

Daughter resting on her mother's shoulder. Both are in the back of a car.
Diane Lane as Helen and Danielle Macdonald as Alice

What I Dislike

Loosely tied to the above point, one character seems mentally off and purposely so. This point doesn’t inherently create an issue, but there seems to be a choice to make this character a mastermind. Perhaps this is better addressed in the book, but the execution is far from perfect here.

A newspaper montage reveals essential information which feels oddly misplaced. Practically the entire setup for the film appears through this montage, which creates the necessity to read these headlines in the minimal time given.

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As a horror, nothing but the events are haunting. Children being abused or kidnapped always haunts, but the terror of this remains secondary to the mystery. While the mystery is nice, this film won鈥檛 particularly scare the seasoned horror fan.

Final Thoughts

Every Secret Thing unravels a mystery of opportunism, selfishness, and deception. While the movie won鈥檛 haunt the viewer, it certainly unravels a mystery that shocks them. The nuanced and deceptive characters add a layer of engagement that creates a unique experience, but I doubt this movie will linger in my mind.
2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Quid Pro Woe

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We鈥檝e now reached episode six of Tim Burton鈥檚 Wednesday. And after the last episode, this one did not disappoint.

We start with Wednesday attempting to contact Goody Addams. Last episode, if you鈥檒l recall, Morticia explained the difference between a psychic dove and a raven. Since Goody Addams was the last raven psychic in the family line, it鈥檚 got to be her that trains Wednesday.聽

But her seance is a failure, and Wednesday is interrupted by a magazine note shoved under the door. It says to meet someone at a crypt for answers. 

When she gets there, it turns out that her friends have put together a surprise birthday party for her. Before she can cut the cake, however, she has a vision.

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Jenna Ortega in Wednesday

Goody Addams tells her that she must find a specific gate. After some investigation, Wednesday discovers it鈥檚 the gate to the old Gates house. 

Wednesday goes to investigate, but she isn’t the only one. She is nearly discovered by Mayor Walker. He is also investigating the Gates family, even though they’re all reported to be dead. He leaves a message for Sheriff Galpin and is almost immediately run over by a car.

This incident is enough to get Wednesday鈥檚 town villages revoked. Though this seems like an empty punishment since the whole school is on lockdown. Someone burned Fire Will Rain on their front lawn. 

Wednesday isn’t one for believing the rules apply to her. She has it in her head that she’s meant to save Nevermore Academy, probably from whatever descendent of Crackstone who’s still around. So she has no problem lying to Enid and Tyler and convincing them to help her sneak off campus and explore the Gates house further.

This, of course, is an incredibly informative trip. The kids find a hidden altar to Crackstone, as well as the missing body parts from the monster’s victims. They also find evidence that someone’s been staying in the house. Someone who’s staying in what looks like a little girl’s room.

Before they can find anything more, the monster finds them. They barely escape, and go to the sheriff with what they find. 

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Of course, the house has been cleared out by the time Sheriff Galpin arrives. Furious that his son was almost killed, he tells Wednesday to stay away from him.

Because that always works, right?

Galpin isn鈥檛 the only one angry. Enid is fed up with the way Wednesday has been treating her. And so she leaves their room to bunk with someone else, leaving Wednesday alone. 

This episode was well done. The discoveries at the house were exciting, and I鈥檓 almost sure I know who鈥檚 behind the murders at this point. Overall, this was a good ramp-up to the season finale. 

Jenna Ortega in Wednesday.

Finally, this episode did something I was worried just wasn’t going to happen. And for that alone, it deserves praise.

Wednesday has been incredibly selfish and inconsiderate since the first episode. She’s been rude and demanding towards Thing. She’s ignored her friends’ needs and emotions while insisting they put themselves in danger for her investigation. She has respected no one’s boundaries, even while other people have at least tried to respect hers.

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And now, it鈥檚 finally come back to bite her. All of the people who have been doing their best to show her kindness and support are finally done with her bullshit.

Yes, this is a good thing! Characters are best when they’re allowed to learn and grow. When they don’t come to us flawless. When they mess up and learn from it. Especially for a show aimed at kids, this is essential.

If you鈥檇 asked me at the beginning of the season if this character was going to experience honest character growth, I鈥檇 have assured you it would never happen. Much to my surprise, it鈥檚 happening. I hope that Wednesday is going to come out of this a better person. With two episodes left in the season, there鈥檚 plenty of time for that.聽 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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