For this review round-up, I’ll be digging into two films coming out this week, the delightfully meta horror anthology Scare Package and You Should Have Left, which features a reunion between writer/director David Koepp and star Kevin Bacon, who last teamed up on Stir of Echoes back in 1999.
Scare Package: Like most horror fans, I absolutely adore horror anthologies because when they’re done right, they can be the perfect showcase for innovative storytelling that celebrates everything we love about the genre. And in the case of Scare Package, that’s exactly what makes this project so special: you can feel the pure, unfettered admiration for horror pulsing through every single segment and the various wraparound segments to boot. It’s hilarious, gory, sometimes a little weird, but as a whole, Scare Package delivers everything you could want out of an anthological horror movie, and so much more.
We recently ran an excellent review from Caitlin Kennedy, which already does a fantastic job of breaking down just what makes Scare Package so great, so I’ll try to expand on her already excellent critique of the film. Originally called Tropes, Scare Package is meant to be a clever send up and deconstruction of all the motifs that genre fans recognize whenever we’re watching a horror movie, but ends up accomplishing far more than that in its execution. The results are pure, unadulterated gore-filled glee at every turn that manages to succeed in ways other anthologies haven’t been able to, especially when it comes to projects with a variety of directorial voices all having their say. The cohesiveness that comes across in Scare Package is truly impressive, and all those involved have set a new standard when it comes to anthology horror stories.
Something else that really stood out to me about Scare Package is that sometimes the wraparound segments in anthological filmmaking can feel like a bit of an afterthought, but here it’s not only absolutely purposeful, but also has a really sweet payoff in the film’s final segment. Each story also does a great job of being very much their own thing individually, but as a collective whole, they all feel like they’re pieces of this super fun puzzle that fit together perfectly in the end. Admittedly, I love some segments more than others, but in that regard, I’m just splitting hairs, as they were all uniquely entertaining and did a brilliant job of celebrating the horror genre in their own particular way.
What I love most about Scare Package is that it’s an experience that will undoubtedly continue to reward viewers upon multiple viewings. In fact, I had viewed it on Wednesday last week, and then gave it a rewatch on Friday night for The Last Drive-In, and still had just as much fun the second time around. The film features a bounty of Easter eggs for genre nerds to hunt down, and I’m glad Shudder has given Scare Package a home so that we’ll have a chance to watch it again and again to find all the fun little tidbits that are peppered throughout all the various segments.
Movie Score: 4/5
You Should Have Left: Truth be told, I hadn’t even heard about You Should Have Left until the first trailer came out a week or so ago, so its release this week has been a pleasant surprise to this writer. Directed and adapted for the big screen by David Koepp, the film stars Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried as an unlikely couple struggling in their marriage who set out to try and salvage their relationship on a family vacation at a remote home in the Wales countryside. At first, the home seems idyllic, but the longer they stay, the weirder things get, and the embattled family quickly realizes they need to deal with their issues before it’s too late for everyone.
Adapted from Daniel Kehlmann’s book of the same name, You Should Have Left is a lean, mean psychological thriller that likes to toy with viewers just as much as it plays around with the sensibilities of its characters, which is, of course, a huge compliment. Koepp and Bacon previously had worked together on Stir of Echoes back in the late ‘90s, and there’s definitely a case to be made for You Should Have Left being the spiritual successor to their past collaboration, as they both offer up a bit of a mind-bending experience that has something of a supernatural slant to it, all making for a ton of great WTF moments courtesy of an impossible locale that pushes Bacon’s character Theo to the very brink of insanity.
There’s been quite a bit of hubbub made online over the fact that there is a huge age difference between Bacon and Seyfried, but that’s part of the point in YSHL: this is a relationship that should not be a thing for a variety of reasons, and if you think that this is yet another case of Hollywood miscasting and ignoring huge age gaps, think again. It’s very much a huge part of the dialogue in You Should Have Left, and that ickiness is quite intentional and purposeful in relation to the film’s narrative as well.
As usual, Bacon gives another first-rate performance in You Should Have Left, proving that he’s one of those rare talents who can play characters that wholly endear themselves to audiences so effortlessly, but can also tap into these other aspects of his dramatic range, portraying complicated, damaged souls that are a danger to themselves and those around them. Seyfried is also great in You Should Have Left, and I love how her character, a popular actress making her way through Hollywood, is something of a physical indictment on the industry as a whole. And newcomer Avery Tiu Essex is an absolute delight to watch in YSHL, too, as her responses to some of the impossibilities of the scenario her character is stuck in with her parents are utterly priceless.
While I wish the story was just a bit more layered, and that we got a few more moments of mind-bending thrills (just because the ones that we do get work like gangbusters), what I really appreciated about You Should Have Left is the fact that the story deals with the idea of accountability in a very straight-on manner, and I really admire the hell out of the fact that it never cops out in regards to its ending, either. Once again, Koepp and Bacon have come together to conjure up some macabre magic, and the results are pretty damn great overall.
Movie Score: 3.5/5