Leave the World Behind 2023 Movie review

The brilliance of Rumaan Alam’s novel “Leave the World Behind,” published in 2020 during a time when apocalyptic themes felt eerily prescient, lies in its deliberate omission. The narrative unfolds with an impending catastrophe, enveloping a group of New Yorkers vacationing in a remote location. Surprisingly, the novel never discloses the cause of the calamity, leaving readers with a lingering sense of unease.

The film adaptation, helmed by “Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail, retains this lingering unease, but the reasons are distinctly different. Starring Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke as Amanda and Clay Sandford, the movie introduces an advertising executive and her professor husband seeking respite from urban life. Their retreat takes an unexpected turn when a mysterious blackout disrupts their idyllic getaway.

As the narrative unfolds, the arrival of a man (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter (Myha’la) claiming ownership of the house adds a layer of tension. The movie, however, takes a divergent path from the novel’s subtle approach. Instead of allowing ambiguity to prevail, Esmail bombards the audience with a multitude of societal issues that could potentially lead to an apocalypse.

In contrast to the novel’s open-ended exploration, the film enumerates a laundry list of potential threats, ranging from racial tensions and class divisions to conspiracy theories and technological pitfalls. The narrative loses its nuance and devolves into a relentless portrayal of everything wrong with America, delivered with such force that it seems aimed at eliciting agreement rather than contemplation.

The movie’s attempt to cover a broad spectrum of societal issues, coupled with overt dialogue and visual choices, dilutes the narrative tension. The characters, initially poised on the brink of an unknown crisis, succumb to a sense of passivity, mirroring the audience’s disengagement. The film lacks the careful restraint required to make the audience introspective, opting instead for an overwhelming barrage of societal critiques.

While the cast, featuring accomplished actors, struggles to find their place in the discordant narrative, the movie fails to achieve the delicate balance between horror and discomfort. The over-signaling dialogue and conspicuous camerawork choices contribute to a disjointed experience, leaving the characters seemingly stranded in a narrative that should have evoked more fear or subtlety. Ultimately, the film falls short of delivering the haunting brilliance of its literary source.

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By acinetv