Horror has been having something of a moment this past decade. With the greatly beloved genre finally reaching some level of prestige with films like Get Out, Hereditary, and The Witch – people seem to be finally taking it seriously and studios seem to be pushing harder for horror with something on its mind. Just this year, Blumhouse released The Invisible Man, a film that is as frightening due to its thematic content as it is for the titular monster. Every movie is “about something,” but more and more horror movies are pushing that “about” to its surface. The late Roger Ebert once said, “It’s not what movies are about, it’s how they’re about it.”
Therein lies the issue with a film like You Should Have Left (ironically also from Blumhouse/Universal).
Kevin Bacon shakes and shrieks his way through a haunted house, as doors slam behind him and shadowy figures jump from corners, all in service of a larger metaphor for the ghosts of one’s guilty conscience. His character, Theo, has been accused of murder, which leads people to give him dirty looks in public and his daughter to ask why everyone hates him. Director David Koepp (Secret Window) adapts Daniel Kehlmann’s novel of the same name, attempting to make a socially relevant horror movie, but has instead made the questionable choice to place us in the POV of the accused and the toll of public scrutiny, or “cancel culture” as some call it.
What is immediately remarkable about this is that it takes what amounts to a pretty asinine idea and combines it with the most generic horror schlock imaginable, under the guise that the bad idea will elevate the pedestrian material. In reality, it just makes for one long movie in which Kevin Bacon is allowed to just be chased by ghosts in his AirBnB. For Koepp being a revered screenwriter and director, he doesn’t really have anything of substance to say about social issues here.
In order to make a movie about an important social issue, especially one involving domestic violence, there needs to be a serious level of discretion and care on behalf of the filmmakers. Though by making a movie that is actually sympathetic to the accused abuser for the majority of its runtime, one quickly comes to the realization that the film is either deeply misguided in its messaging or simply just does not care. Existing purely for the film’s metaphor-based gimmick and that’s it.
In a film filled with boring and tedious choices, the one thing it does have going for it is Kevin Bacon, who shakes and shrieks (as mentioned earlier) with a sense of presence and fear that actually gives You Should Have Left some intrigue. Bacon has always had a knack for just barely hiding the truth on his face and it makes for some compelling moments where we do wonder whether or not Theo is guilty of what he’s been accused of. Amanda Seyfried also doesn’t seem to be sure of what film she’s in here, but can anyone really blame her given the material? Koepp’s bizarre script veers from improvised comedy to melodramatic argument scenes that add to the sense of “what the f*ck is this movie even about?”
Which circles back to the point at the start. Every movie that has ever been made is about something and some make it more obvious than others. However, in a time when the “about” is talked about more and more, as conversations around issues become prevalent and complex, it’s easier than ever to realize when someone is pretending to be about something they’re not. If nothing else, You Should Have Left is the perfect message for anyone who was present during this film’s creation.