What should have been a distraction free vacation at a remote house in Wales for husband and wife Theo (Kevin Bacon) and Susanna Conroy (Amanda Seyfried) and daughter Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex), turns out to be anything but when their “simple sanctuary” morphs into something sinister.
Susanna is a busy actor; Theo is a rich banker starting a new life and family after his first wife died under mysterious circumstances. Feeling the need for quality time, they jet off to Wales to spend a week in the country. The rental house is even more beautiful than the on-line pictures. “It’s bigger on the inside than outside,” Theo marvels as they walk into the majestic foyer. There’s no cell service and the place is stark, stripped of all the owner’s personal touches, but Ella’s bedroom has a bed “the size of Connecticut” and all seems well.
Soon, doors open by themselves and Theo discovers a hallway that appears to be a place where time stands still. Then, the strange dreams begin. Before long Theo’s nightmares spill over into his waking hours as reality and dreamland become harder and harder to differentiate. Tensions flare, and after a fight Susanna leaves to cool off, leaving Theo and Ella in the house alone overnight.
It’s then that things get really weird. The house seems to adhere to the wonky laws of physics as written by M.C. Escher. One room is five feet longer in the inside than the outside and the home’s long hallways are interconnected in ways designed to entrap and confound anyone unfortunate to find themselves stuck in their seemingly endless maze.
As Theo tries to keep Ella safe, he finds an ominous note scrawled in his diary. “You should have left,” it says in large, sloppy letters. “Now it’s too late.” What’s going on? Is he trapped in a haunted multiverse? Is the house the course of his torment or are these phenomena a product of an unhealthy mind?
“You Should Have Left” is heavy on atmosphere but light on actual raise-the-hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck scares. There is the odd jump scare moment but the movie is mainly geared toward psychological drama, the primal fear for the safety of a child or losing one’s sanity. Theo spends a great deal of time wandering the house, opening the doors that sometimes lead somewhere unexpected, sometimes lead him right back to where he started. It’s a clever way to represent the various parts of his personality and the psychological journey he is on. “The right ones always find the house,” says a townsperson. “Or is it the reverse? does the house find them?”
Director David Koepp keeps the special effects to a minimum, relying instead on the weight of Theo’s psychological crisis to carry the story. It’s like “The Shining” without a showstopping “Here’s Johnny” scene. The weird and wild stuff is mostly done with camera tricks and inventive direction, giving the haunted house scenes an organic, slightly more realistic feel.
“You Should Have Left” is part psychological thriller, part morality tale. At just ninety minutes it feels a hair long and a late stage dramatic point between Susanna and Theo feels forced but Bacon keeps the portrait of a man trying to understand what is happening around him intriguing.