YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT movie poster | ©2020 Universal Pictures

YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT movie poster | ©2020 Universal Pictures

Rating: R
Stars: Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, Avery Essex, Colin Bluemenau
Writer: David Koepp, based on the novella by Daniel Kehlmann
Director: David Koepp
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Release Date: June 19, 2020

YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT borrows from several other iconic horror books-into-film adaptations. They won’t be named here, as that would give the game away, and most viewers will make those associations for themselves. Still, it’s a nicely creepy haunted-house story that mostly strikes a balance between serving its premise and not belaboring it, though the climax leaves something to be desired.

Theo Conroy (Kevin Bacon) would seem to have it all – affectionate, beautiful younger actress wife Susanna (Amanda Seyfried), their adorable little daughter Ella (Avery Essex), and enough money to be retired with a glass-walled house overlooking Los Angeles.

Alas, Theo has issues with both rage and jealousy. To his credit, he’s trying to subdue both. When Susanna gets a job on a movie in London, Theo suggests the family take a relaxing U.K. vacation until shooting starts. They book an isolated house in Wales through a website. And what a house it is.

The dwelling is out in the middle of the countryside. However, any thoughts that we might be treading into WICKER MAN territory are squelched by the weirdly modern rental property, which is enormous, blockish on the outside and impersonal on the inside, with no personal effects of the owners. It’s decorated like an upscale hospital waiting room or business office. It also seems to be even larger within than without, something remarked on several times in the dialogue (though it seems a safe bet the characters have never heard of the TARDIS).

Then the nightmares start, as do discoveries about more of the house’s architectural peculiarities and rumored history.

The mythical foundations of YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT are entertaining and intriguing, as is the production design. Bacon is an especially strong lead, going from profoundly loving father to dangerous fury and back without losing the center of his character.

David Koepp, who directed and adapted Daniel Kehlmann’s novel for the screen, does a lot of pleasingly spooky stuff with shadows and water. However, he seems to be reaching for a literary effect that doesn’t fully work onscreen. He also places exposition in ways that come too late to pack the intended punch. By the end, we feel like some key stepping stones were omitted.

Koepp makes the most of the contrast between the house and the bucolic scenery, with rural Wales being played by gorgeous New Jersey (seriously, the state tourist board should license some YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT footage). He also has fun with Theo’s visit to the local village, where Colin Bluemenau has an amusing bit as a shopkeeper.

YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT overreaches for emotions in the end, but it still delivers enough trippy shivers to warrant sticking with it.

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