Release Date: December 8th
Run Time: 141 mins
Production Company: Higher Ground Productions (Founded by Michelle and Barack Obama)
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Julia Roberts, Myha’la, and Ethan Hawk
Synopsis: A family’s vacation is upended when two strangers arrive at night, seeking refuge from a cyberattack that grows more terrifying by the minute, forcing everyone to come to terms with their places in a collapsing world.
In Leave the World Behind, we are confronted with familiar narratives that often grace our social media timelines and echo through family discussions – government conspiracies and apocalyptic scenarios. The film, directed by Sam Esmail, looks into these themes and more with a compelling narrative.
Amanda Sandford (Julia Roberts) and her husband Clay Sandford (Ethan Hawke) embark on a seemingly ordinary family getaway with their two teenagers to a rented house near a New York beach. What begins as a picturesque escape takes an unexpected turn when a massive cargo ship disrupts their idyllic beach day.
The story takes a further twist with the unanticipated arrival of two strangers, G.H. Scott (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth Scott (Myha’la). Claiming ownership of the residence, they propose cohabitating until citywide issues, such as power outages and severe traffic, are resolved. Tensions escalate as Clay and Amanda remain skeptical of G.H.’s ownership claims, leading to a moment of humorous disbelief. Amanda’s questioning is met with a palpable reaction from G.H. and Ruth, as if saying, “Here we go again with this sh*t!”. The encounter sets the stage for a suspenseful exploration of trust, uncertainty, and the unraveling of societal norms.
As the narrative unfolds in Leave the World Behind, a sequence of prophetic events such as power outages dropped cell phone connections, and an unusual gathering of deer takes center stage… quite an eerie experience indeed. The film looks into each character’s exposure to these events, unraveling their own flaws and demons that become apparent amidst the unfolding chaos. The looming uncertainty of the threat adds a layer of tension, keeping the audience questioning the trajectory of these bizarre occurrences and fostering doubt and potential conflict among the characters.
A Look Into the Key Characters
Mahershala Ali (G.H. Scott): Ali’s stellar performance is evident, particularly when his character, G.H. Scott, unveils his true intentions to Amanda during a pivotal scene. His commanding presence and expressive eyes bring depth to a character who exudes intelligence, articulation, and social connectedness. Although not inherently violent, G.H. is portrayed as a kind man ready to go to any lengths to protect his daughter emotionally and mentally.
Myha’la (Ruth Scott): This is my favorite character of the film. She is confident, speaks her mind, and voices the thoughts that most people would conceal if in her situation. Although for most of the film she is stand-offish and displays a rough exterior, there is a moment of vulnerability as she questions what’s to happen as these catastrophic events keep occurring and if her mother, who is traveling from overseas back to the states, is safe.
Julia Roberts (Amanda Sandford): Known as America’s Sweetheart, Roberts takes on an unexpected role as a rude, assertive, and direct individual who harbors a strong disdain for people. The departure from her usual persona adds a refreshing layer to her acting repertoire, showcasing her versatility in a character description that might not immediately align with her name.
Ethan Hawke (Clay Sandford): Portraying a mild-mannered and caring father and husband, Hawke’s character grapples with challenges to his masculinity. He faces the realization that, in a time of limited technological resources, he cannot provide for his family. Despite being critical of himself, Clay remains the optimistic force in the group, revealing hidden intelligence beyond his own self-perception.
Kevin Bacon: While Bacon’s screen time is brief, his effective portrayal of a stereotypical redneck conspiracy theorist adds a memorable touch. His character exudes a chilling aura, hinting at a loose screw and adopting a shoot-first, ask-questions-later mentality to protect his family.
Leave the World Behind weaves a tale of uncertainty and fear captured through beautiful cinematography. The film effectively utilizes shocking moments, such as the characters’ reactions to dead bodies, crashed planes, and historical artifacts, enhancing the thriller element and maintaining viewer engagement.One of the visually captivating scenes showcased a multi-car collision involving driverless Tesla cars. The wreckage sprawled from the city of New York to the roads leading to the beach house where the characters were residing.
The soundtrack, featuring surprising choices like Joey Bada$$’s “Rev3nge” and Blackstreet’s “Never Gonna Let You Go,” complements the film’s atmosphere. The music, coupled with impressive sound system effects, adds to the immersive experience.
One of the biggest surprises in the film was watching Roberts and Ali break out dance moves to the 1997 hit track “Too Close” by Next. I couldn’t help but smile as I was impressed with Roberts’ moves while Ali just did a little two-step and watched Roberts let loose. It wouldn’t be surprising if this scene makes its way to social media and goes viral.
While the film finds a suitable platform on Netflix and sparks conversations on worldviews, politics, and morality, the final act slightly loosens its grip, leaving some viewers wanting a more impactful payoff. Despite this, the superb acting, impressive cinematography, and thought-provoking narrative all contribute to the film’s overall appeal. I give this 2023 4th quarter release a 7/10.