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You Should Have Left
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Panic Rooms"
2 stars

Back in 1999, writer-director David Koepp and actor Kevin Bacon teamed up to make “Stir of Echoes,” a modest-but-effective adaptation of Richard Matheson’s supernatural thriller about an ordinary man who finds himself plagued by inexplicable and increasingly haunting visions that seem prepared to harm him and his family. Twenty-one years later, the two have reunited to make “You Should Have Left,” an adaptation of Daniel Kehlmann’s supernatural thriller about an ordinary man who finds himself plagued by inexplicable and increasingly haunting visions that seem prepared to harm him and his family. Perhaps they should have limited their reunion to recording a new commentary track for a special edition Blu-Ray of “Stir of Echoes” because their new collaboration is a handsomely mounted but dramatically film that not even their combined professionalism can boost to the level of being mildly interesting.

Bacon stars as Theo Conroy, a wealthy retired banker who seems to be living a peaceful and happy life with his young actress wife Susanna (Amanda Seyfried) and their six-year-old daughter, Ella (Avery Essex). It doesn’t take long to discover that Theo is not quite as at peace as he might seem at first glance. Although he loves his much-younger wife, he does have issues with trust and jealousy—he thinks nothing of going onto her phone when she is in the bath to look over her text message. We also learn that he was married before and his first wife drowned in the bathtub after taking too many pills—he was charged with killing her and while he was acquitted, the show trial that developed made him famous/notorious with many people still convinced that he got away with murder. Wanting to get away, Theo and Susanna decide to go off to Wales with Ella for a few weeks of relaxation before Susanna begins shooting her new movie, renting an Airbnb in an area that is remote even by Welsh standards.

At first glance, the place seems perfect—an impossibly huge modernist structure that seems oddly out of place with its bucolic surroundings. It seems too good to be true and indeed, the family has hardly settled in for their first night when Theo begins to experience some strange things—rooms and doors start turning up that should not logically be there, there always seems to be a new light that needs to be turned off, and there is a room that somehow measures as being five feet wider on the inside than it does outside. Already on edge because of his feelings of persecution from the public and growing tensions with Susanna, these inexplicable events begin driving Theo to distraction and when his worst suspicions about Susanna are confirmed, she leaves for the night and that is when things start to go higgledy-piggledy.

Although you may not immediately recognize his name, you have almost certain seen some of the films that Koepp has worked on over the years—he has served as a screenwriter on such films as “Jurassic Park,” “Carlito’s Way,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Panic Room,” “Spider-Man,” “War of the Worlds” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and has directed such intriguing smaller-scale films as the aforementioned “Stir of Echoes,” “The Trigger Effect” and the wildly entertaining “Premium Rush.” Although hardly infallible—the guy did also direct the inexplicable “Mortdecai”—he has proven himself to be a solid filmmaker and when I discovered that he was behind this one, I developed far more interest in it than I might ordinarily generate for yet another low-budget genre effort from the Blumhouse factory. From a purely formal perspective, the film is not without interest—it has been put together in a stylish and efficient manner and he does a good job of presenting the increasingly complex house in a way that at times makes it feel more like a character than an ordinary setting. The three main actors are all good and there is a very amusing bit by Colin Blumenau as a resoundingly unhelpful local shopkeeper. Koepp also comes up with a couple of quietly effective scare moments as well, especially one where Theo moves away from a mirror without noticing that his reflection has remained.

The big problem with the film, ultimately, is Koepp’s screenplay, which reportedly differs significantly from the original source novel. It feels as if Koepp has built his script upon bits and pieces taken from any number of sources, ranging from obvious influences like “The Shining” to parts of his own oeuvre to the otherwise unrelated cult horror novel “House of Leaves” and as a result, a certain degree of predictability sets in that doesn’t quite jibe with the allegedly bizarre goings-on that are unfolding. A bigger problem, however, is that the relationship between Theo and Susanna simply does not work, despite the best efforts of Bacon and Seyfried. Although Koepp does take pains to underscore the considerable age difference between the two while implicitly criticizing that particular cinematic trope, he fails to convincingly suggest how these two ever came together in the first place or why Susanna would have chosen to marry him despite presumably knowing of his somewhat rocky track record in that regard. This is an especially glaring flaw because their relationship is the key to the film’s climax and since we can never quite buy that in the first place, the whole finale winds up fizzling as a result.

One might think that in these peculiar times, a film centered on a character who finds their seemingly perfect house transmogrify into a virtual prison that they cannot escape from would have a certain resonance that would register with viewers who were also stuck in their own homes. Sadly, not even that inadvertent twist of fate is able to lend much interest to “You Should Have Left” when all is said and done. It has been made with just enough professional skill to make you think that it just might turn itself around and become genuinely interesting at some point but never quite manages to pull it off. Watching it is like looking at a beautifully restored car and admiring all the surface details, only to discover, too late, that the engine won’t turn over when you try to start it up and you are stuck with no place to go.

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originally posted: 06/19/20 02:11:10
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