“Leave The World Behind” is a new Netflix release that promises a thrilling cyber attack-themed story, but falls short on delivering a coherent and compelling narrative. Despite a talented cast led by Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke, the film’s convoluted plot and lack of focus make for a disappointing viewing experience. It is filled with distractions, from the camera movements to the music, and unfortunately, the thin and self-entitled story managed to bring the worst out of its stellar cast too.
Right at the beginning of the film, Roberts’ character makes (a rather relatable) statement about her frustration with the world and its problems. Therefore she and her family, aka the Sandfords, go on a last minute escape to a beachfront rental home in Long Island. Who would not want to hide from society in a luxurious house with a pool, right? However, the plot quickly becomes completely muddled and difficult to follow as the cyber attack slash end of the world storyline is slowly introduced.
The film fails to fully explore the implications of the attack and the sudden national blackout, leaving the audience with more questions than answers. That would be still okay, if we were to investigate and analyze these characters as they are trying to figure out what the heck is going on. However, that is not the case. The characters’ motivations and actions become increasingly implausible, and the plot twists feel more like cheap thrills and the script lacks subtext, dynamism or character building. We are stuck in one place, not unlike our protagonist, there is just an occasional ear-piercing ultrasound that hits us like a hammer.
One of the most disappointing aspects of the film is the lack of depth given to the children’s characters. The son is portrayed as a one-dimensional gamer who stalks girls (like most teenagers do), and the daughter is defined solely by her obsession with “Friends” (I understand, that is her comfort show but c’mon.) Writer-director Sam Esmail and his team had an opportunity to explore the impact of the cyber attack, paranoia, the effects of immense danger and unpredictability on these young people, but they chose instead to rely on tired stereotypes.
The film’s soundtrack is a mixed bag, with some well-chosen pop and R&B tracks providing a nice energy to certain scenes, but at times feeling overbearing and distracting from the story. The Tarantino-esque style of the first 10 minutes or so is obvious (music, graphics, pace) and that creates a sense of anticipation that the thriller-mystery ultimately fails to fulfill.
The film’s reliance on flashy camera movements and gimmicks is another weakness. While some of the shots are visually impressive, they often feel like empty style over substance, with no real narrative purpose. Think of the scene where Roberts explores the rental house. After the third time, you see twisting-turning high angle shots like that, I challenge you to not to feel nauseous! The cryptic music that is present from the get-go also feels manipulative, and way over the top.
The film’s underlying social criticism and misanthropic tone, while potentially interesting, is ultimately underdeveloped. The protagonists’ own flaws and contradictions are never fully explored, leaving the audience with the impression that the filmmakers are more interested in making a direct statement about society than in telling a compelling story.
The introduction of the homeowners (played by Mahershala Ali, and the brilliant newcomer Myha’la) adds another layer of tension to the film, but it also feels like a missed opportunity to fully explore the dynamics between the two families. The differences in terms of economic status, attitudes and ethnicity, the tensions that should be simmering beneath the surface never really materialize.
The attempt to use the rental house as a character in the story is an ambitious idea, but it falls short in execution (good examples include „Rebecca” by Hitchcock, „Sunset Boulevard” by Billy Wilder or „The Shining” by Kubrick). Here, the house remains a detached, cold and uninteresting presence throughout the film, failing to add any real depth or meaning to the story. The allegorical intentions and overcomplications reminded me of Aronofsky’s „Mother”.
While the film’s message about the importance of cooperation and acceptance in the face of global challenges is certainly admirable, it is undermined by the film’s poor storytelling and aesthetics. The chaotic and uneven pacing of the film prevents any real tension or emotional resonance from developing, and the script’s heavy-handed approach to the subject matter comes across as preachy and unconvincing.
Ultimately, “Leave The World Behind” is a noble but deeply flawed attempt to address important social and environmental issues. Rather than watching this film, you might be better off if you connect with an old friend or go out for a walk in the woods and recharge. Those would probably serve us as a society much more.
„Leave the World Behind” is now available on Netflix.
~ by Dora Endre ~