Dir. Sam Esmail (2023)
A family rents a fancy Airbnb to get away from it all, but when a cyberattack cripples the country's communications, they find themselves trying to survive the new world after the people who own the house show up in the middle of the night.
The disaster movie has to be one of my favorite film subgenres. It doesn't take a lot to impress me as long as you show some cool shit happening in places it shouldn't, like with The Day After Tomorrow's downtown Los Angeles tornadoes, San Andreas' toppling skyscrapers, or Deep Impact's deep impact. I didn't expect today's movie to follow along those same lines, however. In fact, I didn't quite know what to expect: I had seen the trailer, but it didn't reveal a whole lot, and I had done zero reading about the film. With such a fantastic cast (which we will get into in a minute), I expected more high-brow cinema, but what I got was a batshit crazy disaster movie that felt more like the typical fare than you'd normally see from such A-list talent.
Amanda (Julia Roberts) and Clay (Ethan Hawke) Sandford have taken their two kids to an Airbnb to escape from the world after Amanda's newly realized hate for humanity. After a day at the beach ends with an oil tanker crashing into the shore, the family finds their communications knocked out and an inability to gather information from the outside world. When the Airbnb's owners, G. H. (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha'la), knock on the door in the middle of the night, suspicions arise and the family has to determine who they can really trust. It quickly becomes clear that the world is crumbling around them, and they're subjected to a string of apocalyptic events, like deer coming too close to the house and strange diseases sweeping through the family. They seek help from survivalist Danny (Kevin Bacon) in an attempt to make their way through this brave new world that they find themselves inhabiting.
I want to make it clear that my critiques about this film do not, in any way, intend to state that it's a bad film. It's certainly not. The creative cinematography, which to be fair can occasionally cause inopportune eye rolls, is dazzling, wich dizzying shots twisting the camera every whichaway when you least expect it. The acting is phenomenal as expected, most notably from Ali and Roberts, two Oscar winners who certainly look the part throughout. The script, which perhaps could have used a little tightening up for a film that runs almost two and a half hours, is good, though it does occasionally delve into the "white guilt," liberal commentary that you'd expect from a movie with Roberts headlining. Again, not a critique as I wholly agree with the message, but something that will likely cause a few people to get turned off on the film.
What's so odd about the movie is that it is, in the end, a disaster movie. The "fall of the United States because of outside actors" feels like its set up to be an action thriller, but the reliance on a small-scale setting (the area surrounding on Airbnb in particular) prevents the film from really going full-tilt into a end-of-days political thriller. Instead, the audience is subjected to nature-run-amok scenes of super-intense deer, technohorrors like self-driving cars on a warpath, and the stereotypical "we're all in this for ourselves" commentary of survivalism and the fall of society. And that's what feels so strange about the film: that A-list talent is shockingly out of place in the film, with a cast that performs exceptionally well but far beyond what you'd usually expect from a movie like this. It never becomes an action movie, never quite makes the transition into political thriller, and instead feels more like if The Happening spent infinitely more money on its cast than its effects (though Leave the World Behind never skimps on that aspect either). The film is far more horror than I expected it to be, which is why it has ended up on this site.
It's a bizarre film, but it is also, as I stated, a fantastic one. I found myself shaking my head that it was made, not because it shouldn't have been, but because I couldn't believe that they got these actors to perform these roles. They really do knock it out of the park, however, and make what could've been an abject failure a movie that will likely stay near the top of Netflix's most-watched films for a while. While the political commentary that does exist within the film is a little ham-handed, and the overall message about a life that ultimately isn't real, as echoed by the Sandford's young daughter's obsession with the television show Friends as she desperately seeks to watch the final episode after the fall of the internet, can fall flat at times, it's still an excellent commentary on the world as it exists today. And Kevin Bacon is awesome too.
Who this movie is for: Technohorror fans, Social horror lovers, Cellphone addicts
Bottom line: Far different than I expected it to be but still surprisingly effective, Leave the World Behind is an excellent technohorror/thriller that gets the most out of its A-list cast. The writing is good, the cinematography is flasy as hell, and it's a well-told story that is maybe about twenty minutes too long. Either way, it's a Netflix movie with exceptionally high production values, and it's got some shocking scenes that I certainly didn't expect from a movie like this. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, and it will likely confound a few folks expecting the type of movie that people like Roberts and Ali usually inhabit, but it's a fantastic disaster flick/technohorror that is far scarier than I expected. As someone who tends to believe this is exactly how things will likely go down, it's intriguing to see it all play out on film. Give this one a shot.