Monday, December 18, 2023

But I Just Got Here

I'm not sure when this changed, but at some point over the last 20 years, big studios stopped making grown-up but mainstream horror. I'm talking your What Lies Beneaths and Sixth Senses, the movies that spark obnoxious arguments about the 100 years war between the definitions of horror and thriller. Sometimes good, often bland, these are the kind of mid-budget movies with movie stars' faces blown up on their poster. Typically, it's the only opportunity to do wild things like pair up Robert Dinero with Dakota Fanning's imaginary friend, or chase Kim Basinger as she watches Christina Ricci's head fall off in the NYC subway.

Stir of Echoes (a good movie that infamously flopped due to its release proximity to the much more audience-friendly aforementioned Sixth Sense) was this kind of film, so it makes perfect sense that its director David Koepp would return with similar fare.

Quick Plot: Theo Conroy is a retired financial whiz married to the significantly younger actress Susannah and feeling every day of their age gap, though they make it work for 6-year-old daughter Ella. Between self-help tapes and humbling set visits, Theo also works through some demons from his past: his first wife's death was enough of a mystery that it put him on trial for murder, and that plus some extra years can complicate a sex life or two.

Their past behind them, the Conroys head to Wales for a quiet getaway before Susannah leaves for her next film shoot. Both parents experience disturbing nightmares (well, horrific dead children for Theo, forgetting her lines onstage for Susannah) and do the smart Insidious-learned lesson of getting the hell out.

Well, they try. An ill-timed text message sends Susannah on her way and Theo and Ella left to brave one last night in the strange rental. Once they discover the interior is somehow bigger than the exterior, doors start closing and the terror unfolds.

Based on a novel by Daniel Kehlmann, David Koepp's You Should Have Left feels very tonally connected to his last horror outing with Kevin Bacon, Stir of Echoes. It has the feel of, how do I say it, a  'real' movie (if you're a horror fan, I THINK you know what I mean?) but at its heart, it's a good old fashioned ghost story that belongs on the same shelf as, say, The Changeling.

No, I'm not saying You Should Have Left is on that level, but it has its moments. Like Stir of Echoes, it finds a new angle into familiar genre territory and understands the importance of grounding it in believable, likable people. I was never quite as scared as I wanted to be, but I was also never bored. This is a solid, if unremarkable little ghost story that plays with just enough surprises to make you wish for just a few more.

High Points
Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried are movie stars for good reason. They're, you know, VERY GOOD at being compelling. We as the audience enter into this setup with our defences up: mainstream cast, wild Hollywood age gap, PG-13 rating. It's not a natural sell, but by golly, they (and strong child actor Avery Tiiu Essex) make it work

Low Points
While I love the fundamental nature of You Should Have Left's menace, a fifth act reveal by Theo feels a bit of a letdown and perhaps most where the more mainstream-yness comes in

Lessons Learned
Wales does not have sufficient olive bars

Old men should always remember sunblock

To better prepare a west coast child for cold weather, make sure she spends some time in Chicago

Based on its online reputation, I was pleasantly surprised with You Should Have Left. Granted, I'm a mark for any story that calls to mind Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves and have nursed a lifelong crush on Kevin Bacon ever since he pole vaulted over some Tremors, but I still think this film will please more genre fans than not. Find it on Peacock. 

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