You Should Have Left: Not Just the House Settling, by David Bax
If you’re at all like me, you’ll become immediately skeptical about David Koepp’s You Should Have Left because it’s yet another Hollywood movie in which a male star is romantically paired with an actress more than a quarter century his junior. With that said, Koepp does make the age imbalance a crucial ingredient, with a tragically aborted first marriage in the backstory and ongoing incompatibility in the present one. In this and other ways, You Should Have Left, doesn’t manage to fully overcome familiar tropes but does, at least, execute them capably and thoughtfully.
Theo (Kevin Bacon) is extravagantly wealthy and seemingly retired to Los Angeles, where he lives with his second wife, Susanna (Amanda Seyfried), a successful actress, and their young daughter, Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex). With a few weeks off between Susanna’s movie shoots, the family decide to spend a couple weeks at a massive, rented vacation home in the Welsh countryside. This very modern house in the middle of a very old country proves a fitting setting for Theo’s realization that he can’t so easily escape his old life into his new one. Koepp’s focus on newness means You Should Have Left is, thankfully, one of the still relatively rare major American movies to acknowledge the large role of phones and other screens in our daily lives.
Koepp and Bacon reunite here for the first time since the undersung Stir of Echoes, also known as the other American horror film from 1999 about seeing dead people. When Ella complains about the Welsh weather, “I’ve never been this cold before,” and Theo replies, “You never lived in Chicago,” it could be a nod to that Windy City production. Bacon’s ability to play spooked and shaken has not waned in the more than two decades since. And the other core members of the cast are just as solid. Seyfried embodies an actress’s ability to hide within herself and contrasts that with endearingly vulnerable moments like snort-laughing at a funny text message. Essex, meanwhile, carries some surprisingly frank material while also looking believably like the offspring of Bacon and Seyfried.
Koepp and cinematographer Angus Hudson take their cues from the house where nearly all of the action takes place (a real house in Wales designed by John Pawson, for which the movie invents a second story and, eventually, some more details I’ll leave for you to discover). Like the building, the film is angular and antiseptic, with clean separation between objects and people as well as between sounds like slamming doors and the occasional scream.
For most of its first half, You Should Have Left plays like a mystery, albeit of the kind where only the audience doesn’t know the answers. Theo’s past clearly contains some trauma so it’s believable that the characters would talk around it rather than address it directly. There’s a line between a movie not overexplaining itself and being ostentatiously secretive; You Should Have Left stays on the right side of that line right up until Ella’s inquisitiveness forces Susanna to lay it all out for her and for us.
After that, the film settles into full-on haunted house/psychological horror mode. Koepp, who also directed the underrated 2004 Stephen King adaptation Secret Window, knows how to produce jumps and shivers in equal measure. As is often the case with horror movies, though, there’s some moralizing going on and we become increasingly suspicious that Theo is being punished for something. The resolution of that thread is underwhelmingly pat and predictable but You Should Have Known has more than enough pedigree and scares to make for a fun, freaky movie night.