Being stuck indoors without the ability to escape is both the reality of life during the coronavirus pandemic and the plot of the new psychological thriller movie You Should Have Left. You Should Have Left tells the story of Theo Conroy [Kevin Bacon] and Susanna Conroy [Amanda Seyfried], a married couple with a noticeable age difference who, in an attempt to repair their strained relationship, decide to vacation in a visually stunning, yet inherently terrifying, modern home in the Welsh countryside with their six-year-old daughter, Ella. Soon after they settle in, the jealousy, mistrust and guilt they both feel is exacerbated, and several inconsistencies and discomforting events start to occur. Ella starts seeing shadows, Theo’s journal is anonymously written in and the house inexplicably becomes larger and larger from the inside. After confirming with his daughter that she’s ready to leave and seek refuge elsewhere, Theo and Ella journey on foot to a local store only to end up back at the mysterious house. After finally submitting to the guilt of his past, Theo reluctantly encourages Ella and Susanna to leave without him, as staying in the house of horrors is his penance.
In the film, Susanna, though she loves her husband, is unfaithful to Theo, who is plagued with both jealousy and a painful secret from his past. While the tension between Theo and Susanna is an outlet for Theo to outwardly displace his emotions, and is what the movie spends much of its time developing, the root of his problems is his inability to deal with the deafening reminder of his painful secret: He killed his first wife.
In a virtual college roundtable interview, I asked Mr. Bacon why he wanted to explore a horror film that deals with marriage and the everyday problems that couples face. He responded that “We [him and his wife] wanted to make a movie where there were already underlying issues of guilt, jealousy, anxiety, doubt and personal self-doubt … One of the themes is that you can’t run away from your shadow, and it’s there.” In the interview, Bacon also explains that horror and thriller films are “pretty formulaic” and that “they’re not really thought of as being that great character studies so much.” You Should Have Left undoubtedly amends this critique of the genre and satisfies his expectations, as the audience is made fully aware of the complexity of each character and the dynamics of their interpersonal relationships, and is forced to relate in some way.
In preparation for this role, Mr. Bacon went to extreme lengths to really understand Theo. In the interview, Mr. Bacon said “Sometimes I’ll just sit down and take a couple of hours in the afternoon and write dumb shit down. ‘He likes pizza, but he doesn’t like hamburgers; he would write a pen but not with a pencil.’ Because at some point, these are going to be questions that you might have to answer. Even if you’re never going to have to answer them, they’re all just an aspect of building a character … All of these things add up to become a framework to start saying lines and learning your lines and working with the other actors.” And if there’s one thing this movie should be remembered for, it’s the convincing performance of Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried.
With a relevant plot and actors and actresses capable of delivering powerful and intricate performances distinct from other movies in the genre, You Should Have Left had the potential of drastically redefining and increasing our expectations of a thriller. So why didn’t it?
For starters, the plot isn’t nearly convoluted enough for a psychological thriller. Although Theo’s secret is hinted at early in the film, once we find out that he is accused of killing his ex-wife, there’s no mystery left to unpack. The audience immediately, and correctly, assumes he’s guilty, and that the punishment the house inflicts on him is attributed to his ‘sin’.
Despite trying to prove itself as a thriller, the movie simply wasn’t scary enough. Since much attention was given to character development, the actual action of the movie didn’t begin until the last 20 minutes. Even then, the shock didn’t live up to the anticipation the opening scene suggested would come.
Lastly, while Theo is flawed in ways conducive to the makings of a good psychological thriller, apropos to Bacon’s character Ryan Hardy in The Following, the exposition isn’t exploited enough. For example, his first wife could have played a larger role in causing him emotional turmoil, or Theo could have struggled more with his secret in manners that would have excited the plot.
I’ve personally been a fan of Kevin Bacon since fifth grade when I watched the movie Footloose. After following his filmography, and especially after watching other, modern psychological thrillers such as Get Out or Us, I was expecting a major plot twist near the end that would completely undermine my initial understanding of the events that unfolded in the movie, and encourage me to watch it again. This never came. The plot, while relatable, was extremely straightforward.
Kevin Bacon is an incredible actor and is well renowned in the horror film genre, David Koepp is a brilliant filmmaker and the two make for an extremely powerful duo. Bringing You Should Have Left to the screen is the result of their longtime friendship and their desire to work together again. To ensure their joint project was “the right one,” they kicked around ideas and scourged for a promising plot for a scary film. After reading a translation of the German novel You Should Have Left, Bacon and Koepp immediately knew they wanted to translate it onto the screen. Thus, both Bacon and Koepp are meticulous and capable of seeing the potential in a film — in the case of You Should Have Left, the ideas were clearly there, but the execution fell short.
You Should Have Left is far from bad, as it showcased an excellent performance on Bacon and Seyfried’s behalf. Still, it’s always painful seeing a movie with incredible potential disappoint.
Nkemdirim Obodo is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached [email protected]