Writer’s block stinks. Theo Conroy (Kevin Bacon) gets this very grueling reminder in the new film YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT. Directed and written by pop-cinema icon David Koepp from an original novel by Daniel Kehlmann, YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT follows the story of aging writer Theo whose attempts to resuscitate a relationship only become haunted by a mysterious force bent on madness. What sets this seemingly pedestrian thriller apart is the talent behind it and the mechanically sound progression that keeps its frenetic logic and outlandish scenarios crystal clear through to a breathless finale.

To explain, Hollywood writer Theo is in an untenable relationship with younger actress Susanna (Amanda Seyfried). The two have an angelic child Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex), yet are still struggling to maintain a firm grasp on their happiness in a complicated spring/autumn relationship. When Susanna books a role that is shooting in London, Theo decides this is the perfect opportunity for the three of them to escape Los Angeles and spend some time in the English countryside (Wales to be exact) prior to shooting. Did we mention Theo’s previous wife died mysteriously in a bathtub accident? Did we mention that he is all but a pariah in the industry because of it? Right. So, leaving all of that behind, the three land at a conspicuously austere Airbnb and get to work on “Things.”

Koepp’s technical storytelling prowess comes into play here as the family arrives at the home with wide-eyed optimism and hopes of total exile and relaxation. We get a clear understanding of the layout of the home and the different locales that Ella, Susanna, and Theo claim as their spots. It really isn’t until Theo is up late one night writing in his journal that he notices a door where there wasn’t one before. Theo discovers unopened passages, light switches that can’t be turned off, and more hidden terrors are revealed as the house reveals itself like a kinetic M.C. Escher custom home. Then things get really weird.

I think that what impressed me most about YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT is the clean efficiency of the story coupled with the capable talent to pull off. This is a rather simple idea with a pretty straightforward metaphor that becomes more apparent as the movie rolls on. This allows writer/director Koepp to refine his approach. This leaves the talent of actors like Bacon, Seyfried, and even little Essex to fill things in with beats and moments that actually sell a pretty surreal premise. These grounding elements keep us clinging to reality when that is precisely what unnerves.

In less talented hands, this would have played out like just another mind-bender. In fact, even the reasonably foreseeable conclusion is made all the more palatable thanks to the talent and gravitas behind it. YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT is a taut little thriller that’s not afraid to spike the punch with a welcome amount of distressing scenes, plenty of obfuscating twists, and delightfully bitter moments. In short, the movie keeps you confused until the final moments when all is revealed. This is one that you want to watch a second time, and maybe a third.

MOVIE RATING — 8 out of 10 ☠️


You Should Have Left
Runtime: 1 Hr. 33 Mins.
Directed By:
Written By: