A top drawer writer/director, solid A-, B+ list talent and a haunted house seemingly designed by Maurice Escher class up the mildly-scary thriller, “You Should Have Left.”
It has an A-picture gloss and sophistication often missing from the genre. The dialogue crackles, the situations the stuff of many a domestic melodrama. And the ending makes logical sense, even if the pathos and sucker-punch frights, the terror of real violence, are missing.
Kevin Bacon plays the older, wealthier Angelino who has nabbed himself a much younger movie star wife (Amanda Seyfried). But in this family, “nightmares” are the shared trait. Even six year-old Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex) has them. The picture opens with her alarmed at a noise she hears in the night, getting up to close a door, and muttering, in the manner of all Hollywood six-year-olds.
The whisper in her ear corrects this behavior, or should.
“Don’t curse, unless you wanna BE cursed!”
Susanna (Seyfried) is in the middle of a shoot, fussing over her husband’s poolside habits like the ultimate “child bride” (or trophy wife).
“Old man…SUN block!”
Theo smiles this off, and suffers the petty humiliations of being denied a visit to the set by some functionary who figures “You’re her father?” Mercifully, Theo can only hear the sex scene that is the order of the day.
But there’s a break between films coming up. Let’s rent a place, and as the British house-hunting show puts it,“Escape to the Country.” They grab a posh “pile” in rural Wales, sight unseen, via an Internet ad.
It’s mysterious and modern, austere and chilly. The rooms are a veritable Escher maze of brick and dim lighting. Perfect!
The dynamics of the family will be put to the test by this place, whose history is muttered by the fussbudget local shopkeeper (Colin Blumenau) Theo meets in what he jokingly calls “The Village of the Damned.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Welsh,” the American gripes.
“That was ENGLISH.”
The older man is suspicious of his younger wife, who giggles too much in her many phone conversations with her director. And he’s stuck answering the BIG questions emanating from the six-year old.
“Daddy, because you’re old, you WILL die before Mommy, right?”
“Why do we have to die at all?”
“Life is not survivable.”
The kid is the first one to hear things in the house. They never believe the kid, do they?
The shopkeeper asks the one question that should set off alarm bells –“Anything happen, yet?”
Theo doesn’t exactly shrug any of this off. He’s just consumed with worry that he’ll be recognized. He has a past.
You cast accomplished actors in films like this to get more emotion out of what is too often a formulaic genre. The dividend here is an absolutely real connection between father and daughter. Watch Bacon’s interactions with young Miss Essex. They’re so natural we buy in instantly.
Seyfried gets to send up her screen sex kitten image, playing an actress who complains about her director wanting her to get naked “again,” for scenes that come off “kind of porny.”
Adapter-director David Koepp scripted “Jurassic Park,” a “Spider-Man,” a “Mission: Impossible” and a string of (mostly) hits, the witty “Ghost Town” among them. The dialogue here positively sparkles, characters have realistic motivations and close-to-the-bone reactions to strains in their relationships.
But underplaying the terror of facing the supernatural is always a mistake.
The effects are stark and simple. Mirrors misbehave. A creeper wanders the shadows. How far would YOU go to wake yourself up from every parent’s worst nightmare?
It’s all rather less than the sum of its parts, but the first two thirds of “You Should Leave” impress and engross. It’s a pity we don’t get to see it with an audience. Because if there’s one thing that amplifies tiny frights, it’s other people overreacting as if they’re scared out of their wits.
MPAA Rating: R for some violence, disturbing images, sexual content and language
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, Avery Tiiu Essex, Colin Blumenau
Credits: Written and directed by David Koepp, based on the Daniel Kehlmann novel. A Universal/BlumHouse release.
Running time: 1:33