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Leave the World Behind

Updated: Dec 23, 2023

Part cautionary tale, part disaster film and riveting after its shaky start, LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND is a fascinating mystery.

The film opens with Amanda Sandford (Julia Roberts) almost done packing as she surprises her husband Clay (Ethan Hawke) with the fact she's booked a surprise weekend escape. She says its a chance to get away from the madness of their Bronx apartment and reconnect with their teenage kids Archie (Charlie Evans) and his younger sister Rose (Farrah MacKenzie).

The problem with the opening scene is that Amanda's dialogue feels unnatural. This isn't the way people talk, it's the way screenwriters think they'd talk in an especially clever moment. It's all forced.

Then we dive unto jarring main title graphics and a theme song that seems all wrong. I'm five minutes in and I'm thinking, "what the hell is this mess? A comedy? A satire?"

Thankfully, the film then finds its groove. The Sandfords settle into the stunning country home, loaded with every modern convenience and luxury accessory.

They make a morning trip to the beach that ends in spectacular, grand scale intrusion. It's the first sign that something is really wrong, and it's a big one.

The internet seems spotty, going from slow and grainy to downright dead.

Cell phones follow soon after, leaving this modern family disconnected, with all the angst and frustration that would generate.

That evening, there's a knock at the front door. Julia tells Clay to grab a bat and Clay asks "Why would I have a bat?" as he picks up a solid piece of expensive modern art as a potential weapon.

At the door is the tuxedo clad GH Scott (Mahershala Ali) and his early twenties daughter Ruth (Myha'La). He introduces himself to Amanda by name and explains that this is his house, he is the man that rented it to them. A major blackout has hit NYC, so they have returned home.

Amanda's responses are blatantly racist, implying there is no way that a black man could own this home. Clay cringes at Amanda, he's trusting and believing. Ruth despises Amanda immediately, reading every bit of Amanda's prejudice.

It's a fascinating sequence as GH clearly demonstrates that he indeed owns the home , but there's just enough reasonable doubt to make you question if he is who he says he is.

Clay falls back to trite and polite responses. Of course they should stay the night and everything will be better by the light of day.

But Writer/Director Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot) is just getting started.

Twists and turns abound.

There are some spectacular events that happen over the next 24 hours.

The less you know going in, the better.

Ali and Myha'La are both fantastic. GH is clearly a powerful, connected man, but Ruth seems to have a better hold on the state of the current world when things start going to shit.

Hawke is one of my favorite actors and he's superb here in one of the quieter roles, making his terror all the more palpable when it intrudes. His solitary journey into town is loaded with great moments.

Roberts is brave playing such a wholly unlikable "Karen" who detests people and lives her days with her anger out front. She clearly cares for her children, although I never felt she had any love left for Clay.

Kevin Bacon is very good in the role of Danny, a town handyman who GH knows well. But Danny is a flag waving patriot whose single-minded goal of protecting his own leaves little room for empathy. But what happens when all the conspiracy theories that you thought Danny was a kook for believing, start happening in front of your eyes?

Esmail build incredible tension throughout, weaving a thoughtful tale with hints of Hitchcock, especially "The Birds" and "North by Northwest". He's aided nicely by the ever escalating creepy score by Mac Quayle.

The last couple minutes of the film kind of fell flat for me, with Rose almost ignoring everything important around her during a self-centered discovery. It paints her in the same light as Archie, who is one of the most selfish, unsympathetic teens ever portrayed on film. With no personal interaction skills and all of life happening on your cell phone, is this the generation ahead? Only when personal tragedy strikes does Archie share any human emotion.

Everything between the opening scene/main titles and that final Rose scene soared for me. The suspense was real, the mystery confounding and the dramatic scenes are gut wrenching.

We talked a lot about the film after it was done. We all agreed on the brilliance of its mystery and the fact that it made us think about the current state of the world. Have we ever been more divided?

I loved GH and Clay's final scene together. You find yourself plugging yourself into one of those roles and realizing the IMMEDIATE importance of the world finding common ground.

We MUST, and we must QUICKLY.

I loved the sense of urgency that we felt to explore those connections post-viewing. Let's stop talking about what we disagree about and start finding the parts of life we agree on and start sharing those on a human level.

Here's hoping that LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND sparks similar conversation across everyone who watches it.

For me, it's an inspirational and disturbing A-.

There is no going back to normal.

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