Who knew that deer, F.R.I.E.N.D.S, falling teeth and power plants would have a civil war in common? Sam Esmail’s latest Leave the World Behind is a modern day take on America causing its own downfall, featuring two pairs of families. The movie throws itself into suspense right from the beginning, never giving away the full treat until the end. The film, based on Rumaan Alam’s book of the same name, is much more than just a holiday gone wrong.
The Sandfords rent out a mansion for an impromptu getaway to Long Island, because Amanda Sandford “hates people”. Their children, Archie and Rose, have vices of their own to deal with. Right into their holiday, their peace is disturbed when an oil tanker heads straight for the public beach. It barely misses the family, but that is only the beginning of oddities that they see in their holiday. The signal in their area gets damaged, which sets the F.R.I.E.N.D.S obsessed Rose into a frenzy. Amidst all of this, the Scotts – owners of the villa the Sandfords rented – arrive in the middle of the night, only adding to Amanda’s problems.
Esmail ingeniously keeps the viewers aloof from the actual, more devastating problem at hand by playing on their instinct of doubt on people. The characters themselves do not address the situation because their own circumstances have consumed them. To Amanda, the more pressing problem are the Scotts, who have shown up unannounced. Though she doesn’t voice it, her worry is also caused by their skin color, which was fully taken offense of by Ruth Scott. Rose, on the other hand, is only bothered by her yet to be completed binge of her favorite show. Esmail also makes Rose the first one to doubt that the problem was something much larger than a loss of network. It is only after some damage to the ears that both the Sandfords and the Scotts realize that this is not a regular blackout.
The cast is what makes the film so entertaining. Julia Roberts, plays the lioness-like Amanda, who clearly has the last say over her husband Clay, played by Ethan Hawke. He efficiently plays the nonchalant husband, a polar opposite to his misanthropic wife. Mahershala Ali stood out, as G.H. Scott, a man who has everything sorted out, except for times like this. G.H. never calmly handles Amanda, whose suspicion of him is more about the fact that he is black. He never lets his worry break forth his level-headedness, until all of his doubts are confirmed.
All communication systems are dismantled by the time everyone realizes what is actually going on. Now being cut off from everyone but themselves, the characters have quite literally left the world behind. Esmail also banks on the idea of human survival, that humans are the best help to each other in times of crises. Leave the World Behind is essentially an important social commentary in the guise of a thriller movie. The thrill is paced by the clues left for the audience, some that even the characters miss out on. These breadcrumbs make the movie more engaging, because the audience gets to be ahead of the characters at some points. The film has all of Esmail’s tell-tale signs: characters not fitting into social norms, a heavy focus on technology, and a general breakdown of society.
However, the film does not quite pack the punch. A more insight into G.H. or Ruth would make them feel like a more solid part of the story. Despite being strangers to the Sandfords, their relevance to the story is undermined in the film. Also, the characters express panic in a controlled way, unlike what one’s behavior is when the world is in chaos. There is a thrill, constantly guessing what the characters would do next. But it is not the kind that makes you sit up at once when a twist comes in the story.
Tod Campbell has done a stunning job at cinematography in this film. The camera movements greatly complement the twisted nature of the story. There is a good perspective play as well, interesting shots that add to the storytelling itself. They are unsettling for a purpose, i.e. to unsettle the audience.
What Leave the World Behind does best is despite the constant guessing on the audience’s end, Esmail has the last laugh. He drops something so unexpected that comes as a shock to viewers’ expectations. While the film might not have you startling like regular thrillers do, Esmail adds a good dose of humor in it. The film has the audience constantly questioning the events as they unfold. The bigger question that fuels the film is if the Sandfords and Scotts, truly left the world behind.Leave the World Behind is streaming now on Netflix