It’s okay to walk away from ‘You Should Have Left’

“You Should Have Left” – “Violent or upsetting dreams are the mind’s attempt to release the pressures of our daily thoughts and fears.”

Theo Conroy (Kevin Bacon) frequently listens to self-help audiobooks these days.  You see, he has bad dreams, and the latest includes his 6-year-old daughter Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex):  a creepy man, who partially conceals his face with a baseball hat and glasses, attacks Ella in her bedroom.  This horrible visual would undoubtedly send any semi-caring father into a tizzy.

Theo, however, is a full-caring father, and outside of his nightly nightmares wreaking havoc on his sleep, he has it all, as they say.  In his late 50s or early 60s, this wealthy, retired banker lives in a Hollywood Hills mansion with his younger, beautiful wife Susanna (Amanda Seyfried).  Susanna’s a famous, steadily-employed actress, and this couple loves each other and Ella.

Life is grand, except for Theo’s nightmares.

So, they decide to get away on holiday.  A change of scenery, someplace out of the way, may do him some good.  Well, it turns out that in 2020, millionaires are like everyone else.

They don’t vacation in hotels either, and on an AirBnB-like site, they find a property, a modern house sitting on the crest of a hill.  The write up says, “A place to relax and contemplate a simple sanctuary in picturesque Wales.”

Wales!  Sounds excellent and out of the way.

Does it have Wi-Fi, and what is the cleaning fee?  The cleaning fee question is legit because when the Conroys arrive and explore a bit, they realize that the house could be 100,003 square feet.  It seems like every room has a door to another in a catacombs of spaces, complete with modern flooring, furniture, and fixtures.  Oh, and sometimes floor and ceiling lamps turn on by themselves.

Life is grand, except for lights turning themselves on for no apparent reason.

Writer/director Davie Koepp’s “You Should Have Left” – based on David Kehlmann’s novel with the same name – is a haunted house story, but the locale isn’t some old, abandoned chateau with creaky doors and spiderweb-filled hallways.  Koepp offers the creature comforts of contemporary pleasantries that lull us into a sense of ease.  This home is a safe place; at least it seems that way.  To put it another way, have you been to an IKEA?

That sense of security is fiction.  No, this house doesn’t sport outwardly, dastardly appearances like in “The Haunting” (1963) or “Crimson Peak” (2015).  It better resembles a suburban locale in “The Amityville Horror” (1979) or the luxurious apartment building in “Poltergeist III” (1988), where convenient pleasantries mistakenly communicate safety.

Speaking of the “Poltergeist” series, Ella – a sweet, innocent kid – brings back memories of Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke).   Koepp effectively presents this little girl as a vulnerable pawn for the vast mansion’s malevolent devices.

Life is grand until Ella reminds us of Carol Anne.

The story mainly focuses on dear old dad, and naturally, because of his internal strife, the new, troubling experiences in this humungous place become very concentrated and personal.  Like this remote village in the western UK, there are not many places to figuratively go in “You Should Have Left”.  So, Koepp relies on familiar tricks to stir up some frights: more dream sequences, pseudo-ghost presences, the aforementioned lights flipping on by themselves, and a swinging lamp in a lengthy stairway.  Someone is taking Polaroid pictures with bright flashes, which might make one wonder if this is the de facto sequel to “Lights Out” (2016).  It’s not.

Other than the opening scene and one frightful stretch when Ella goes missing, the familiar horror devices don’t conjure any other scares.  Certainly, Koepp provides an intriguing premise with the Conroy family’s potential for internal conflict.  Bacon, Seyfried, and Tiiu Essex help drive the narrative, but that clan-luster wears off with a cinematic Brillo pad because of a pretty obvious conclusion and long walk getting there.

The lengthy stroll is ironic, because the film clocks in at a nifty 93 minutes, but enjoy the film for Bacon’s charismatic portrayal of a flawed character.  Heck, we need this celebrated actor in more meaningful acting gigs because, at 61 years young, the man still has it.  That and “You Should Have Left” also ensures he and Amanda Seyfried now have One Degree of Kevin Bacon, which is a small win.

Life is grand, except when relying on The Kevin Bacon Game to find positives about a movie.

⭐⭐  out of   ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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