David Koepp, prominent screenwriter of blockbuster classics like “Jurassic Park” and “Mission: Impossible,” takes a directorial stab at horror and gets lost in construction. “You Should Have Left” has Kevin Bacon reckoning with author Daniel Kehlmann’s hypnotic source material about a haunted house that blurs the lines between reality and dream. The former “scream king” is queasily paired with Amanda Seyfried as his potentially untrustworthy spouse, whose almost thirty-year age difference in real life is its own Hollywood horror trope. Though its concept and production values meet Blumhouse’s high creative standards, “You Should Have Left” gets too disoriented by its own narrative to ever take off as compelling psychodrama.
Accompanied by their 5-year-old daughter Ella (Avery Essex), the Conroys find a vacation property in Wales to spend quality time before Seyfried’s Susanna begins an 8-week film shoot. A rising actress married to a much older man adds further tension to this already unorthodox marriage, spurring jealousy from Bacon’s Theo. A visit on set during a sex scene that sounds more convincing than it should be, plus the discovery of a second phone has Theo suspecting infidelity. Susanna’s serene demeanor offers no hint of betrayal, though she is worried that Theo’s dark past might soon infringe on Ella’s protective bubble of ignorance.
Before Susanna and Theo were married, Theo was entangled in a gruesome tragedy that made national headlines. He’s since viewed as a social pariah. Confounding of all is that Susanna would still be married to someone who could derail her career by association. When Ella starts noticing her dad receives one too many mean glares, Susanna has to make a decision whether to admit Theo’s checkered history or continue the facade of a perfect family trio. Unlucky for them, the Welsh rental has expedited plans of its own for permanent discord.
Rather than tread on the idea of Theo hallucinating everything, Koepp’s script seems pressured to give unequivocal answers when ambiguity might have been the better play. Geoff Zanelli’s ominous score and Angus Hudson’s entrancing cinematography bring the bizarre occurrences to centerfold. Unfortunately, the performances remain too unflappable for any seismic jolts to ensue. Audiences will stew on their curiosity to see where this rabbit hole leads rather than urged onward by inventive scare tactics.
As one of the more mellow and minimal Blumhouse efforts, one assumes deep characterization or meaty plot would offset the subdued proceedings. Instead, summer movie fans looking for the next big movie scarefest might have to wait a little longer. Lacking the omnipresent terror of Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel, this creepy countryside retreat turns the supernatural into a barely qualifying nightmare tour. Expanding hallways, messing with one’s grasp of square foot logistics, and portals to sinister rooms ultimately lack invention. Though intriguing when the story flirts with the notion that the house is one giant mirror you have to acknowledge before you can shatter, the reflection comes at the cost of muted entertainment.