Written by: Adam Vaughn | June 18th, 2020
You Should Have Left (David Koepp, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Director David Koepp (Mortdecai) has a new film, You Should Have Left, which tells the story of Theodore Conroy (Kevin Bacon, Patriot’s Day), a successful screenwriter who, with his wife and daughter, attempts to escape the accusations of having murdered his first wife, claiming she committed suicide. At the start of the film, I found myself having a very hard time getting around the cliché horror/thriller tropes that were used in the film – the off-the-bat scare scene that turns into a nightmare (courtesy of on-the-nose dialogue), the set-up of a family dynamic as direct exposition, and a man with a dark secret. While the beginning offered lighthearted and comedic moments to ease us into the plot, I felt very overwhelmed by the overused story plots, and so focused instead on the interesting cinematography choices and the clever use of editing and sound to move the story forward.
About halfway through the film, after having a good idea of where the story was leading to, I was pleased (and quite a bit surprised) to find a tremendously solid montage of Theo’s traveling through twisted and turning rooms of the house. This effective combination of cinematography, mise-en-scene and quick-cuts effectively create tension, accompanied by creepy visions from Theo that almost instantly explain themselves. All this cinematic achievement aside, the film never leads to anything deeper or more implicit than “Did he actually kill his ex wife?,” a question the film proceeds to answer for us as part of the pay-off for a suspenseful build-up. Too early was Susanna (Amanda Seyfried, Les Miserables) dismissed from the rest of the story plot, before any viewer could clearly discover the dynamic of Theo and Susanna’s relationship, where it was going, or how long it was even going to last. Having a child in the script will almost always bring some sense of warmth and compassion, and Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex) certainly was the glue that held the family together.
Overall, with powerhouse actors such as Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried, there were certainly touching and suspenseful moments thanks to the two actors’ attempts to make a cookie-cutter script their own. And while a modern setting for a thriller was a breath of fresh air, the performances gave the story emotional heft, though I hoped the film would explore Theo’s past in more depth. There was always the possibility that You Should Have Left would surprise us with a part of Theo’s history that wasn’t foreshadowed from the start of the film, or leave the audience with something to think about walking away from the film, yet the film never went there. For a movie with strong visual storytelling that definitely, in and of itself, took me on a journey, it was nevertheless a story that’s been told time and time again.