WATCH OF THE WEEK: Leave The World Behind
Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke are a well-to-do Brooklyn couple, Amanda and Clay Sandford, who decide on a whim to take an impromptu vacation on Long Island to get away from the city for a while. They pack up themselves and their two kids and hit the road for some Rest & Relaxation, even if their kids (played by Charlie Evans and Farrah Mackenzie) are only interested in hooking up with locals or streaming episodes of Friends.
A trip to the beach is interrupted when an oil tanker comes crashing into the shoreline. Hmm, that’s odd. Later that night, the Sandfords are interrupted by a knock at the door of their swanky vacation house. It’s homeowner G.H. (double Oscar winner Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la Herrold, credited here just as Myha’la), who drove up from the city after a mass blackout situation and are asking to stay the night. Uptight Amanda is suspicious; cool Gen-X dad Clay seems okay with it.Power dynamics in the relationship are revealed, and racial tension is subtext threatening to become text.
Meanwhile, word from the outside world is scant. Phones are down, and the TV is out. Clay is out looking for answers the next day when he’s caught in a storm of red flyers falling from the sky, reading “Death to America” in a foreign language. When they try to return home to the city, the expressway is clogged with a pileup of self-driving Teslas. Back at the house, deer and flamingos gather in uncomfortably large numbers in the backyard.
Is it global terrorism? Eco- disaster? All of the above? Esmail, who’ll shoot a scene from above or follow his actors through multiple levels of a house in a single
shot (which was frequently the most fun I was having with the film) just because s less interested in the specifics of what’s happening than he is how the characters
react, and how quickly they fall apart. Are we all fraying at the edges of our modern existence? Are we all just a few hours of down Wi-Fi away from losing ourselves?
Esmail, whose screenplay is based on Rumaan Alam’s 2020 novel of the same name, often juxtaposes several events simultaneously to heighten tension. Still, those moments only highlight how little is actually happening on screen, and his misdirections continually meet dead ends.
New wrinkles are constantly added into the mix — a mysterious shed in the woods, a series of shrieking sounds from the sky, an incident with loosening teeth — but little is offered in the form of resolution, only more mysteries. A standoff finally comes with a survivalist, played by Kevin Bacon, who forces Hawke’s character to admit he’s utterly useless without his phone. This is probably true for many of us in this modern world, but it seemed like we were headed for something greater than a lecture on our reliance on tech.
A closing joke feels cheap given what led up to it, a last laugh from Esmail that seems on the audience rather than with it. Leave the World Behind has some big ideas about the end of the world and how it will come, but in the end, that’s all they are: ideas.