Review: ‘Leave’

Alex Herron’s Leave tells the story of a woman searching for the parents who abandoned her as a newborn. It’s a film that blends up numerous horror film trinkets, from hints of Norse mythology to spirit possession and jealous insanity. Even the satanic tableaux of European ‘doom metal’ music gets a nod. But for all its horror red herrings, the film’s modest purpose is far closer to simple human fallibility than anything else.

After a tense opening where infant Hunter (Alicia von Rittberg) is found in a cemetery wrapped in a dark blanket with unusual markings, the film jumps ahead twenty years later where, thankfully, Hunter is mostly well adjusted with a loving father and beginning her college life with a road trip to school.

Except instead of proceeding to Georgetown, she hops on a flight to Norway with paper clippings and research about her real mother and father- both once popular musicians in the heavy metal scene. The stories originally reported- that her father Kristian (Morten Holst) killed her mother (Ellen Peterson) by burning her alive inside a church- certainly would fit the apocalyptic lyrics of any death metal song. Add to the fact that the devious, shadowy image of something is haunting Hunter in her dreams and eerily screaming the mantra of the film’s title, Leave establishes a thoroughly moody experience from the get-go.

However, once she lands in Norway and makes contact with her mother’s surviving family members, Leave turns into a more introspective examination of hereditary failings and evil that’s certainly more humanistic than supernatural.

Led to her grandfather Torstein (Stig Amdam) by the surviving band mates of Kristian and Cecilia who’d much rather forget their histrionic past, Hunter barely gets any answers here either. Her family history, wherein most of the females have met an untimely demise, seems secondary to the patriarchal control and manipulation exhibited by Torstein and Hunter’s cousin Stian (an especially wormy performance by Herman Tommeraas). It’s only through her exhaustive search for her mother’s diary that Hunter eventually finds any answers.

While there’s nothing remotely groundbreaking about Leave, director Herron exudes an assured control as the film shifts the dynamics from a horror movie to yet another exercise in toxic masculinity. And even if it’s a bit derivative, Leave settles in well as a film that uses the horror genre to mine some ugly truths about the desire to maintain staunch bloodlines. Like the ideas that graced the screen recently in other efforts such as the wonderfully bizarre Barbarian (2022), Leave tells a story where the actual people in front of us are ten times more scary than the figures we embellish in our imagination.

Leave is a Shudder release and begins streaming on their channel on Friday March 17th.