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Review: Leave the World Behind (2023)

Leave the World Behind (2023)

Directed by: Sam Esmail

Premise: A white family books a lavish country home for a weekend getaway. The internet and other mass communications cease to work. The Black owners of the house show up unexpectedly and both families try to figure out what’s going on.

What Works: Leave the World Behind is a slow burn thriller that achieves considerable tension through the gradual unveiling of information. Not much actually happens in the movie and yet it’s totally engrossing because of the implications of what might be going on and the complex cast of characters who populate the story. The two families are quite well characterized, each with their own unique relationships. A white family travels to an isolated vacation home and they lose contact with the outside world. This at first appears to be a technical glitch but it gradually becomes clear that something more is going on. When the Black homeowner and his daughter show up tensions escalate. The filmmakers and the actors deal with the racial tension quite well. Nobody overstates it and yet it is quite obviously there especially between the white mother and the Black daughter played by Julia Roberts and Myha’la, respectively. What’s especially interesting is that this racially tinged distrust dissipates as these people are forced to cohabitate and get to know each other but at the same time the larger stakes get increasingly frightening. Leave the World Behind limits our knowledge to what the characters experience and the film effectively preys on fears that society might be on the verge of collapse and there’s nothing we can do about it.

What Doesn’t: Quite a bit of Leave the World Behind looks great but the film includes digitally created animals that are not so convincing. At one point a flamboyance of flamingos show up at the home and swim in the backyard pool. The birds look like cartoons. The presence of flamingos is also a credibility problem since Leave the World Behind is set in Long Island where flamingos don’t reside. The film deals with its racial tensions quite well but Leave the World Behind has an economic blind spot. It’s pretty clear that there is supposed to be a class difference between the two families but they both come from exceptionally wealthy upper-class backgrounds. Even the home of the local survivalist (Kevin Bacon) comes across disproportionally wealthy. The affluence on display in this movie is disconnected from most people’s lives and the filmmakers miss an opportunity to create a cast that represents a cross section of the American population.

Disc extras: Available on Netflix.

Bottom Line: Leave the World Behind is a tense thriller with vivid characters who have complex relationships. It has provocative social implications while also delivering as a piece of entertainment.

Episode: #980 (January 14, 2024)