The haunted house at the heart of David Koepp’s thriller “You Should Have Left” is an amalgamation of the Winchester Mystery House, The Overlook Hotel, and the Headland House from Leigh Whannell’s “The Invisible Man.” The modernist Airbnb located in Wales, upstages actors Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried who play a couple with a young daughter (Avery Tiiu Essex) looking for some R&R and a break from Hollywood. She’s an actress, he’s a retired bank with ominous baggage, and together with a kid in tow they head for a vacay that turns into a variant of “The Shining.”
I have always associated Kevin Bacon with horror even though the genre has barely infiltrated his filmography. Each October I find myself watching “Friday the 13th,” “Stir of Echoes,” “Tremors,” or “Flatliners” to get me in the mood for All Hallows’ Eve. The first time I saw Bacon onscreen it felt like I was watching a horror film as men in satanic robes tortured him with a paddle in National Lampoon’s “Animal House” as Chip “Thank you, sir, may I have another?” Diller.
You can add “You Should Have Left” to the list of creepy Bacon films as he reunites with "Stir of Echoes" director and screenwriter David Koepp. Bacon plays a wealthy retired banker named Theo Conroy. His first wife committed suicide and some people still believe that he killed her even though the investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Theo is married to the much younger Susanna (Amanda Seyfried), an actress who like a teenager is glued to her smartphone. The almost 30-year age gap between the actors (he’s 61 and she’s 34) seems wider thanks to Seyfried’s character who hasn’t matured for her age. The two have a young daughter named Ella who is closer to her “Baba” partly because Theo is home with her while Susanna is away shooting films.
Like the average 60-year old, Theo is grumpy, he complains about Susanna being on her phone, and occasionally he has a problem keeping up with her in the bedroom. It’s understandable, they’re not at the same life stage.
In one scene Theo shows up to visit her on the set and they won’t let him in because he’s not on the list. In the background, Susanna is heard moaning and groaning while filming a sex scene. Theo gets embarrassed and later tells his wife that the guard wouldn’t let him on to the set because he recognized him from the news. Obviously, Theo is paranoid that some people still hold him accountable for his first wife’s death.
Shades of “The Shining” come into play as the family traverses across the Welsh countryside on their way to an Airbnb located in an isolated location four miles from the nearest small village. They settle in and soon Ella begins seeing shadow figures, lights go on and off, and everyone begins having nightmares.
There are a few jump-scares when the film gets started but for a while, it doesn’t even feel like you’re watching horror. Once the setting shifts to the ominous home, Koepp bides his time keeping the scares to a minimum while the creep factor remains prevalent but low-key.
Theo has a journal that he writes in to keep his feelings in check and while it doesn’t include the line “All work and no play makes Theo a dull boy” it does contain foreboding warnings (“You should leave” and “GO NOW”) that he doesn’t remember writing.
In Daniel Kehlmann’s novel that provides the basis for the film, Theo was a writer which would have given the story an even bigger “Shining” feel. Banker isn’t the most exciting occupation and there’s nothing in the story that alludes to Theo’s occupation. I suppose the job requires good judgment and specific attention to detail, but Theo has neither. Although he does crunch some numbers that don’t add up, “This room is five feet longer on the inside than it is on the outside.”
Eventually the house becomes the film’s star as secrets are uncovered and the family becomes trapped in what seems like a carnival’s house of mirrors. Doors appear and vanish, figures lurk in the shadows, and time is displaced. It’s a puzzle waiting to be solved but by the time the film reaches its conclusion we are no closer to figuring out the home’s secrets than we were when the family first arrived. You’re never sure if what you are seeing is real or a figment of Theo’s imagination.
“You Should Have Left” may not be filled with fresh ideas, and at times the storyline becomes a bit labyrinthine, but the latest Blumhouse thriller is effective at keeping the viewer enthralled. Bacon, Seyfried, and Essex do a commendable job and I enjoyed Geoff Zanelli’s perilous score which ranges from celestial to thunderous. The frights may be sparse, but it definitely gets under your skin.
Available On-Demand Friday, June 19