Writer-director David Koepp reunites with Stir of Echoes star Kevin Bacon in You Should Have Left, a tense and moderately chilling supernatural thriller that riffs on the duo’s previous film and, perhaps more overtly, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
Bacon is Theo, a retired L.A. banker with a sketchy past: his wife drowned in the bathtub, and he’s been publicly blamed (though legally exonerated) for her death.
Theo has a new, and much younger, wife in actress Susanna (Amanda Seyfried, 27 years younger than her co-star), but he’s insecure about their relationship, depicted during a sequence where he overhears her shooting a love scene on the set of her latest film.
The couple also has a young daughter, Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex), and before Susanna takes off to London for a two-month shoot, the family decides to take a vacation at a secluded Welsh estate that rather quickly turns into a nightmare.
Most of You Should Have Left is set at that creepy Welsh estate, a sterile home with seemingly never-ending hallways and rooms that lead into other rooms. The place is measurably bigger on the inside that it is on the outside, and all its walls and floors aren’t at 90° angles with each other, which the film thinks is supremely creepy but I’m thinking is just an architectural flaw.
Almost immediately, Bacon’s Theo begins to have terrifying nightmares that bring him into the basement of the house and into contact with its supernatural entities. And Susanna and Ella aren’t having the best of times, either. Is Dad going crazy? What really happened to his ex? And are mother and daughter in peril?
While the nightmarish stuff and mystery surrounding Theo’s past play out in predictable fashion, I liked the mature way You Should Have Left handled its subplots, particularly the relationship between Theo and Susanna and the explanations given to daughter Ella, which are surprisingly level-headed for this kind of thing.
Best known, perhaps, as the screenwriter behind blockbuster films like Jurassic Park and Mission: Impossible, You Should Have Left is Koepp’s first film as director since the 2015 bomb Mortdecai, and represents an effectively familiar return to earlier features like Stir of Echoes and the Stephen King adaptation Secret Window.
But it might be too familiar a return: anyone who remembers those films will know exactly what’s going on here. Like those two features, 90% of You Should Have Left is a creepy and atmospheric ride – until a finale that wraps things up in a neat little package, and deflates the supernatural mystery by spelling out everything too clearly for its audience (in this regard, Koepp should have taken better notes from Kubrick’s The Shining).
Still, You Should Have Left is undeniably well put-together until that underwhelming denouement, and effectively eerie throughout. Stacked up next to the usual Blumhouse chiller like Fantasy Island or Countdown, this one may well be Kubrick-level in comparison.