Very hip, very haunted house in ‘You Should Have Left’
C’mon. Everyone knows that when you rent a vacation house online, you read the reviews first.
So maybe if Theo and Susanna, the upscale couple in “You Should Have Left,” had read the reviews before renting their lovely getaway house in Wales, just maybe they’d have come across that creepy guy who says in the film, “Some don’t leave.” He doesn’t seem to mean it in a good way.
In any case, soon after they arrive in the picturesque countryside with their young daughter, things start feeling strange to Theo and Susanna — and no, not in a good way. And we, the viewer, start asking the obvious question: Why the heck don’t they just pack up and get out?
But, like so many families in haunted house horror pics before them, they just don’t seem to get that leaving is an option, while it still is. Instead they wander the lonely halls incessantly — like the Torrance family in “The Shining” — until it’s “Too Late,” as someone mysteriously scrawls in Theo’s journal.
Oh, speaking of “The Shining”: you’ll be thinking about it a lot during “You Should Have Left,” because this Blumhouse film, directed by David Koepp, is sort of a “Shining Lite.” No, there are no creepy twins. And this haunted house may not be as spectacular as the Overlook Hotel, but it’s pretty cool: All exposed brick and blond wood, sleek and shiny and devoid of extraneous decor, it’s the real estate version of a very hip, very tailored men’s gray suit.
Kevin Bacon is Theo, a banker markedly older than his infectiously charming wife (Amanda Seyfried), a Hollywood actress. Before they even get to Wales, we learn Theo has a checkered past: he visits her film set, and the security guy blanches when he recognizes Theo’s name. We also learn that that tightly wired Theo is jealous, very jealous, when it comes to his wife’s relationships, and is working on bettering himself via journaling and a meditation app. Still, he knows the passwords to her devices, and uses them.
But Susie, as he calls her, seems to be genuinely in love with Theo — it’s not always clear why — and the two have an adorable 6-year-old, Ella (Avery Essex, excellent and a dead ringer for a young Seyfried). So when Susie has a film shoot planned in London, the family decides on a quick restorative getaway beforehand.
Restorative? Hardly. Immediately, everyone starts having terrible nightmares. Also, there’s no decent food around, and seemingly little to do. And there are those endless hallways, and doors that appear and disappear, and mysterious light switches. People keep getting lost, and the clocks go haywire.
Yet the family sticks around, long enough for painful secrets to be told, old wounds to be exacerbated, truths to be admitted … and things to get a lot scarier, obviously.
Bacon gives his usual committed performance as Theo, who is no longer a writer in this adaptation of the novella by Daniel Kehlmann, but nonetheless has a journal, so we can see creepy scrawlings a la Jack Torrance (but nothing as scary as “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy…). Seyfried’s appealing warmth gives the marriage a genuine feel.
But the characters and their relationships are frankly more interesting than the plot, with its heavy emphasis on Theo’s tortured psyche and the constant possibility that everything we see is being dreamed or imagined. The tension escalates quite effectively, but the payoff feels weak, because the thing — or person, or whatever — that we’re supposed to be most scared of is hardly as scary as the buildup.
The Welsh countryside looks lovely, even though the movie was shot in New Jersey. It makes you want to find a cool vacation house in Wales, OR New Jersey, yourself — whenever people are able to start doing things like that again.
But hey, maybe read those online reviews first.
“You Should Have Left,” a Universal release, has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America “for some violence, disturbing images, sexual content and language.” Running time: 93 minutes. Two stars out of four.