Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried star in the psychological thriller, directed by David Koepp.
All they wanted was a pleasant, relaxing family vacation. They got something else, instead.
By all outward appearances, Theo Conroy (Kevin Bacon) should be a happy man. Rich and retired, Theo is married to successful actress Susanna (Amanda Seyfried). They are very much in love and are happily raising their daughter, Ella (Avery Essex), 6 years of age and full of energy. Something from his past continues to gnaw at Theo, however, giving him traumatic nightmares, so ahead of Susanna’s next job in London, they decide to spend some private time together as a family.
They rent a large, modern house in Wales, a short drive from a sparsely-populated village, and settle in for a restful retreat. Large and comfortable as it is, though, the house contains some puzzling design elements, and before long, both Theo and Susanna realize that something is not quite right about their vacation home, which is turning into a horrifying nightmare of its own.
Based on a novella by German-language writer Daniel Kehlman, first published in 2017, You Should Have Left has been written for the screen and directed by David Koepp, who previously adapted Richard Matheson’s Stir of Echoes (1999) — with Kevin Bacon in the lead — and Stephen King’s Secret Window (2004) into clever, unsettling tales of filmed horror.
Known for his contributions to screenplays that allowed directors to put their own distinctive stamps upon the films, starting back in the 1990s with Toy Soldiers, Death Becomes Her, Jurassic Park, and Carlito’s Way, in his own films as a director, Koepp has consistently served up personal, audience-pleasing films that defy easy expectations, such as The Trigger Effect (1996) and Premium Rush (2012).
After the manifold disappointments of Mortdecai (2015), then, it’s a pleasure to watch You Should Have Left and observe how he deftly introduces familiar tropes, such as traumatic memories, an impossibly huge house, and a child in peril, only to pull the rug out from the expected route to a satisfying resolution. It’s not that the tropes simply vanish, or that Koepp is able to completely elide genre expectations, but it’s more a matter of his elegance in dealing with what the audience might anticipate, like a rollicking rollercoaster that appears to be headed off a cliff.
Koepp presents the film with a delicious balance of visual cues and flourishes, complemented by a well-honed script that mostly avoids the obvious pitfalls. Impressively, for the most part, there are no more than three actors on screen at any one time, and all three are capable of holding the attention of the audience, especially Kevin Bacon, who dives into the idea that his character is, in fact, getting older, and sufficiently weathered that his wife and daughter both merrily mention it frequently. Amanda Seyfried brings full-bodied vitality to a relatively thankless role as The Wife, while newcomer Avery Essex makes a believable and spirited child.
Really, the only constant reminder that You Should Have Left is meant to be a horror movie is the spooky musical score composed by Geoff Zanelli, but that feels more like an after-thought by director David Koepp, as if anyone in the audience might forget what kind of movie they are watching.
That won’t happen. The film is a sturdy, sure-footed thriller that keeps things nicely off balance until its very last moment.