Home Entertainment Extravaganza ‘Leave the World Behind’ Is the Good Kind of Grim – Monomaxos

‘Leave the World Behind’ Is the Good Kind of Grim – Monomaxos



Sometimes it can be nice, or at least cathartic, to see a movie that says we’re right to worry. That all those things we stress about, with mounting apocalyptic dread, are, in fact, looming on the horizon. The new film Leave the World Behind (Netflix, December 8) is not sparing in its gloom, its perhaps arch insistence that awful things are slouching toward us. Adapted from Rumaan Alam’s bestselling novel, Sam Esmail’s film is a dreary, harrowing sit—and all the more invigorating for it.

In adapting the novel, Esmail has made some significant changes. He gives real answers to the book’s ambiguity—specifically, he explains what exactly is happening during this seeming end of days—while losing, unfortunately, much of Alam’s interior poetry. The novel is as much an elegant psychological and sociological study as it is a doomsday thriller, but Esmail leans far more on the latter quality. His Leave the World Behind falls short of profound, though still proves plenty rattling.

Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke play Amanda and Clay, a middle- to upper-middle class Brooklyn couple (he says they live in Sunset Park, she insists they’re actually in Park Slope) in need of a vacation. Both have been working long hours, and they’re feeling a little estranged from one another and from their children, teenage Archie (Charlie Evans) and tween Friends obsessive Rose (Farrah Mackenzie). Amanda impulsively rents a spot out on Long Island, a sprawling home in the modern farmhouse style replete with fine finishings and a swimming pool. The family is genuinely unwinding and connecting with one another when the owner of the house, G.H. (Mahershala Ali), and his twentysomething daughter Ruth (Myha’la) knock on the door in the wee hours looking to stay the night.

Amanda is wary, suspicious of their story about a blackout in the city—and even of their ownership of the house. Here, it seems, Leave the World Behind is setting us up for an uncomfortable look at prejudice and propriety, a tense seriocomedy of manners in the style of, say, a Ruben Östlund film. But before long, it becomes clear that something much bigger is governing the story. Cell service drops; the internet goes out; animals are behaving strangely; a piercing, glass-shattering noise coming from the sky occasionally renders the two families immobile.

Leave the World Behind incorporates many familiar armageddon tropes, but Esmail employs them in novel ways. He’s especially adept at manifesting tech anxiety, the creeping fear that the more process and function we cede to machines, the more we stand to lose when they fail. Esmail has some fun poking at us atrophied dopes, so helpless without our GPS and streaming distractions. Haywire tech can also prove physically dangerous: there’s a chilling—almost silly—scene involving self-driving cars, mindless things doing their job to ruinous outcome.

But it’s not just technology, or the lack of it, vexing these people. They are all, in varying ways, feeling the gnaw of something internal and existential, a sense of displacement in these modern times—atomized from one another, angry and untrusting, maybe even disgusted. In explicating that, Esmail gets closest to the lyrical insight of Alam’s prose, the way the author so beautifully and keenly describes contemporary malaise. The actors are especially good in these stretches. Roberts and Ali, in particular, deftly maneuver long and troubling monologues. Amanda is maybe the most soul sick of the bunch, a good match for the singular prickliness that is as much a part of Roberts’s star persona as is her famous buoyancy.

Esmail’s complicated technical flourishes—the camera really moves in Leave the World Behind—does not occlude the careful work of the actors, all of them ratcheting up the alarm in credible increments. We come to care for our sorry heroes, shifty and flawed as they might be. But the film reminds us, again and again (and especially at the end), that the world has no feeling nor empathy for these people, nor for any of us— conspiracy theorists anticipating the worst and unwitting dopes alike. We are all just temporary guests of something much older than us. The horrors in Leave the World Behind might be man made, but nature makes its own sinister intrusions into the picture, murmuring with threat and maybe the faintest of passive warnings.

Here and there, the film stumbles into cliché or hits a rough patch in believability. For the most part, though, Leave the World Behind feels terribly possible, as if the order of our lives really could unravel in this way: noticeable only after it is too late. The thing has happened, is happening. Just take a look around outside.



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