Review | Leave the World Behind | 2023
Leave the World Behind, Netflix's latest high concept thriller, is the kind of movie whose premise is designed to be immediately eye-catching enough to stop would-be viewers with a pithy blurb that makes people think "oh I've gotta see that."
The film owes a lot to the work of M. Night Shyamalan, both stylistically and conceptually. A family heads off to a high-end AirBNB in the country to get away from the hustle and bustle of their lives in New York City. Their plans are derailed when their devices go down and a stranger (Mahershala Ali) shows up at their door, claiming to be the house's owner and asking for shelter. Cut off from the outside world, they have little choice but to co-exist, while an unknown calamity unfolds in the world around them. It's interesting that Shyamalan released an apolyptic thriller of his own just this year, because as flawed as it is, his Knock at the Cabin is more intriguing than the off-brand Shyamalan-esque Twilight Zone riff director Sam Esmail is attempting to craft here. Even the movie's score by Mac Quayle seems to evoke pieces of Signs and The Happening.
Try as he might, Esmail is never quite able to conjure the same sense of portent and doom that is always such a tangible part of Shyamalan's work. Instead, he fills the film with strange, unexplained events, framed by dizzying crane shots, and saddled with tin-eared expository dialogue that not even the likes of Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke can make convincing. It's pretty clear the filmmakers decided that the initial idea that humanity is too reliant on our technological distractions was a good enough theme and never decided to dig deeper - its attempts to comment on the racial dynamics of a black family trying to co-exist with a distrustful white family at the end of the world falling embarrassingly flat. It borrows liberally from ideas that were given much greater thought in the 45-minute long 1960 Twilight Zone episode, "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," without a glimmer of Rod Serling's sly wit.
Leave the World Behind is a film that so desperately wants to comment on our moment, to grapple with big ideas and leave audiences with haunting questions to ruminate upon. But it makes its point quickly and then drags it on for two-and-a-half interminable hours, culminating in a truly insipid finale that turns the whole thing into some wretched cosmic joke. It's just another cog in the wheel of the Netflix content machine designed to be forgotten as soon as the trailer for the next film in the queue pushes the credits to the sidebar. If this is the kind of streaming "content" we'd lose in an internet destroying apocalypse, maybe we'd be better off.