LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND
Starring: Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke, Myha’la, Kevin Bacon, Farrah Mackenzie, and Charlie Evans
Director: Sam Esmail
Leave the World Behind is an immensely enjoyable semi-apocalyptic psychological thriller featuring magnificent performances from a stellar cast. The film gradually reveals intriguing details about the nature of the disaster, inciting a relentless sense of tension that slowly builds, emphasised by the striking, off-kilter score. The answers to the many questions that the film poses don’t really matter; it's the collision of the different characters, the awkward tension, and emotional drama that drives the plot. Though undoubtedly a slow burn, the pacing is great, and the intriguing premise held my attention.
Driven by terrific performances and dynamic direction that fuels the unsettling tension that only grows over the course of the movie’s runtime, I can honestly say there were no moments in which I wasn’t fully engaged with Leave the World Behind…until the relatively unsatisfying ending, that is. Plus, while I was captivated while watching the film, as the credits rolled, several questions entered my mind that made me think, “wait, but why did…? That doesn’t make sense.” All that is to say, when you’re in it, this movie is a winner – just don’t think too hard about it once it’s over.
Usually, I'm a fan of director Sam Esmail, but Leave the World Behind did nothing for me. The premise was too ill-defined to hook me, and the characters were far too unlikable to root for. The film is essentially one long build-up for a very, very weak payoff. This made it feel like something M. Night Shyamalan might direct, but unlike Old (2021) or The Happening (2008), Leave the World Behind is too pretentious to have any fun with. The empty critiques on consumerism are almost as annoying as the disorienting camerawork. I can appreciate what Esmail was going for, but unfortunately, this one is a miss.
Leave the World Behind may not be your typical apocalyptic thriller, but it is an ominously slow burn that keeps tensions high throughout (not to mention the stylish camerawork and all-star cast that enhances the 2.5-hour runtime). This somewhat unsettling film is extremely thought-provoking, which some will find fascinating, but it ultimately leaves you with more questions than answers. That said, while the end result may not be completely satisfying, the film’s commentary on human dynamics is powerful enough to stick with you.
I admire certain ambitions of Leave the World Behind, but beyond that, I found the movie lacking. There is no real thematic depth to draw me in beyond its mystery and cast, nor did I think the satire had any real weight or even much to say. There are moments when the weirdness sucked me in, but it felt like writer/director Sam Esmail was simply trying to get reactions at times, even if that wasn't his intent. Lastly, I simply did not like the ending. I can't say it didn't entertain me at all, but I don’t think this movie is worth much either.
Leave the World Behind provides more interesting questions than answers, but thanks to its great performances (highlighted by Julia Roberts) and some excellent visuals from director Sam Esmail, it makes for an interesting watch. Unfortunately, there's something missing in the proceedings as the film is just never as gripping as it should be. It works great as an in-the-moment watch, but if you think about it too much after the fact, you’ll see that there’s
definitely an aspect of style over substance littered throughout. This is what stops the film from being great, forcing it to settle on being merely good instead.