FILM REVIEW – YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT. With Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, Avery Essex. Written for the screen and directed by David Koepp. Rated R for some violence, disturbing images, sexual content and language. 93 minutes.
There’s an interestingly knotty psychodrama lurking underneath the generic haunted house nonsense of writer-director David Koepp’s YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT. Far better acted than a movie like this probably has any right to be, it is at times a portrait of an aging man undone by his own nagging fears of inadequacy while jealousy eats away at the foundation of a marriage like termites. Kevin Bacon stars as Theo Conroy, a ridiculously wealthy investment banker who was briefly a tabloid superstar ten years ago, when he was on trial for the murder of his wife. Acquitted and now remarried to a movie star half his age (Amanda Seyfried), Theo dotes on their six-year-old daughter and pretends it doesn’t bug him too much whenever strangers recognize him and start whispering behind his back.
The hook for the movie is the family’s ill-fated vacation in the Welsh countryside, where they’ve rented a massive mansion that has a few secrets of its own. A Kubrickian monolith of unvarnished wood and white brick walls, the house’s hallways stretch out for distances that should be physically impossible, with corners cocked at obtuse angles and a living room that measures much larger indoors than out. You don’t need to be a horror film scholar to guess that the house is soon going to hold Theo accountable for the sins of his past, but what’s unpredictable about the movie is a fully realized, adult dynamic between Bacon and Seyfried, set to a semi-abusive simmer that proves far more unsettling than when reflections in the mirror begin moving of their own accord.
One of those super-dependable utility guys who never quite crossed over to leading man status, the eternally underrated Bacon is especially good here, chafing at the knowledge that he’s too old for his wife and driving himself crazy trying not to read too much into her every wayward glance. The film’s best scene arrives early on, when Bacon attempts to visit Seyfried on a movie set but is stopped by an overzealous P.A. who refuses to believe that he’s her husband. Meanwhile, we can hear her shooting a sex scene and loudly faking an orgasm for multiple takes as a mini-operetta of enraged humiliation flickers across Bacon’s face. Whenever she teasingly calls him “Old Man,” she knows exactly what she’s doing, and cooping these two up in a remote house full of ghosts could have been the makings of a great Bergman movie.
Alas, David Koepp is not Ingmar Bergman. A blockbuster architect who provided screenplay blueprints for the likes of “Jurassic Park,” “Spider-Man,” and “Mission: Impossible,” Koepp has also carved out a side career behind the camera making nifty little low budget thrillers like “The Trigger Effect” and “Premium Rush.” (I’ve not seen his 2015 Johnny Depp career-killer “Mortdecai” and that was a deliberate choice on my part.) He previously paired with Bacon 21 years ago for “Stir Of Echoes,” which had the supreme misfortune of opening weeks after that other movie in which a little kid sees dead people. Koepp is perfectly serviceable behind the camera without ever threatening to be inspired. This eerily bright modernist mansion provides some novel visual opportunities, but eventually we wind up in the same old moldy, dripping cellar from a thousand other films.
The most effective moment for me had nothing to do with the horror plot but rather is an unexpectedly abrupt admission by Seyfried that rips the emotional rug right out from under the movie. Her delivery of one particular line felt like a sniper shot, making the film’s obligatory return to the boogeyman in the basement an annoying anti-climax compared to the devastation she’s already delivered. Bacon is listed as one of the film’s producers, and I’m assuming it’s him we have to thank for all the meaty dramatic monologues you don’t usually hear in haunted house movies. The 62-year-old star already played a 35-year-old high school student in “Footloose” the year before Seyfried was born, and this is the rare Hollywood movie to mine that kind of age gap for anxiety instead of just pretending it doesn’t exist.
A clever running bit finds Bacon’s character frequently listening to an audiobook full of passive-aggressive meditation lessons that sound like they’re mocking his angst. “You Should Have Left” really could have used a few more touches like that, especially considering how there aren’t exactly a lot of surprises in the plot department. The inevitable ending is visually cluttered, splashing all sorts of silly, unmotivated lights in between the edits when the resolution really called for something as lean and straightforward as these two unexpectedly excellent lead performances.•••
Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality