Take a moment and think about how many people have stayed in a hotel room before you? How about a new house? What kind of people lived there before you? How many birthdays were celebrated? Did anything terrible happen inside the house?
The haunted house subgenre has seen its fair share of bumps in the night and scary ghosts in the closet, but these stories have stood the test of time and continue to thrive today, look no further than the success of The Conjuring for proof. Because of their effectiveness to create atmosphere, provide space for scares, and create designs that feel like mazes to get lost in, the haunted house film will always be a vessel to explore for filmmakers. Simply stated, houses are scary.
The mysterious house in David Koepp’s new horror thriller You Should Have Left sits lavishly adorned in the countryside atop a hill. Large windows that look like looming eyes, brick walls that feel cold to the touch, dark corners that shelter lingering shadows; all these elements, creatively executed and nicely structured within a mysterious narrative, stalk and haunt a family trying to get away from their busy life in Los Angeles.
Theo (Kevin Bacon) is a wealthy former banker who suffers from terrible nightmares and a past he is trying to escape from. His actress wife, Susanna (Amanda Seyfried), and young daughter Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex) provide a new opportunity for Theo, a chance for a fresh start. Susanna has work abroad and Theo decides to rent a house for a quick getaway, but strange things begin to torment the family and the secrets of the house start to reveal the secrets of the family.
You Should Have Left takes many of the familiar elements and setups of haunted house horror films and adds some great creative touches that compose an interesting mystery and allows the story to build on some nicely crafted chills and thrills. Keeping explanations and easy answers to a minimum is always welcome, especially for a film that is treading on well-covered ground.
Director David Koepp, who last worked with actor Kevin Bacon on the standout 1999 film Stir of Echoes, does a great job of utilizing the house design to its fullest extent. The house, which seems to shift and warp, has a life that manipulates the family with elongated hallways that stretch longer as Theo explores, random doors that appear out of nowhere, and a mazelike structure that adds confusion to every door and corner that is taken. It all works so effectively early in the film.
Everything leads up to a place in the story that unfortunately has difficulty executing a satisfying finale. Some of the mystery needs to be solved and early questions in the film need answers, while it never completely derails the story, it does hamper the horror of everything once revelations come to light. In the final act, the scares wear thin quicker and the tension created almost completely disappears. It’s an abrupt emotional wrap-up that doesn’t accommodate the good work done in the setup.
You Should Have Left adds some really interesting concepts and designs to the familiar haunted house subgenre. Director David Koepp understands how to build an atmosphere within the house, a creepy utilization of unorthodox space that makes it feel like a labyrinth. Unfortunately, the good creative choices and effective jolts are almost squandered by a finale that doesn’t understand the emotion it wants to convey.
Movie Score: 2.5/5