[Screen It]


(2020) (Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried) (R)

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Horror: A couple and their young daughter rent a remote house in Wales, only to have it affect them in ways they didn't expect.

Theo Conroy (KEVIN BACON) is a retired banker with a checkered past whose second wife, Susanna (AMANDA SEYFRIED), is an actress. When her latest movie sex scene intensifies his suspicions about her fidelity, he suggests they get away with their 6-year-old daughter, Ella (AVERY ESSEX). They end up renting a sprawling modern house in a remote part of Wales and seem to love the place at first.

But as they begin to experience troubling nightmares, Theo comes to realize the house might be responsible, with its labyrinth design seemingly holding secrets while threatening to reveal ones belonging to him and Susanna. When things start to go haywire and there are encounters with a shadowy figure known as Stetler, Theo realizes he should have paid more attention to a cryptic message left in his journal stating that they should have left the house.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10

Of all film genres, horror movies seem to be the ones most obviously beholden to using familiar storylines, archetypes, and specific elements to try to unsettle and ultimately frighten viewers.

That's an arrangement that screenwriters, directors, and moviegoers seem completely comfortable with as long as the former two groups of folks manage to put some sort of interesting, engaging, and perhaps even novel spin on the usual scary tropes.

The latest such offering hoping to do that is "You Should Have Left." Loosely based on the novella by Daniel Kehlmann, it revolves around a May-September couple (Amanda Seyfried and Kevin Bacon) who travel to a remote rental house for some R&R and are initially entranced by the modern architecture and labyrinth of long hallways, doors and lots of light switches. But the locals cast a wary eye on the outsiders and seemingly know the history of the place -- and apparently what's presumably about to go down.

And the newcomers, including the couple's 6-year-old daughter (Avery Essex), begin to have nightmares involving that very architecture. Throw in a creepy older man figure that may or may not be real, lights going off or turning on by themselves, overflowing bathtubs, visions or spirits of the dead from the past, parts of the house folding back on themselves and the dad slowly but surely starting to go a bit mad, and all of the familiar bits are in place.

Alas, Hollywood veteran David Koepp -- who wrote the screenplays for the likes of "Jurassic Park," "Mission: Impossible," "Spider-Man" and "War of the Worlds" before directing the truly atrocious Johnny Depp flick "Mortdecai" and serves as both writer and director here -- does absolutely nothing novel, interesting or, worst of all, scary with the well-worn genre conventions.

Of course, it doesn't help that the movie it most seems like -- as related to a family of three being in a remote house where the father starts to go mad as spurred on by the house and whatever supernatural evil resides forever in it -- is the best horror film of all time, "The Shining."

I still get chills and can give myself goosebumps simply thinking about that film's signature score, the cinematography, Kubrick's direction, Nicholson's performance, and the true dread and scares that progressively build on their way to a full boil.

For this offering, I'm already quickly beginning to forget huge chunks of it simply because it fails to engage while retreading material we've seen countless times before. It certainly doesn't help that its "boogeyman" -- an older baseball cap wearing figure with a limp known as Stetler -- is about as scary as, well, an old baseball cap wearing dude with a limp, and his true identity is far too easy to predict before the film reveals it.

As usual, Bacon does the best he can with the material as presented to him, but the script and direction let him down. I guess that's also a worn-out convention of many other horror films, but certainly not one you want to experience. Which pretty much holds true for all of this offering. Not horrible but simply far too unimaginative with its well-worn material, "You Should Have Left" proves prophetic with its title. It rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed June 17, 2020 / Posted June 19, 2020

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