The Movie Waffler New Release Review - LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND | The Movie Waffler


Leave the World Behind review
A family's getaway is disrupted by the arrival of strangers amid a widespread cyber attack.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sam Esmail

Starring: Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke, Mahershala Ali, Myha'la, Charlie Evans, Farrah Mackenzie, Kevin Bacon

Leave the World Behind poster

Streaming services like to think of themselves as representing the future of movies yet they continually greenlight movies that are a decade or two behind the cultural curve. Every month Netflix, Prime Video or Apple TV+ gives us some new variation of the 2005 Doug Liman spy comedy Mr & Mrs Smith, and we're even getting a TV series remake of that film soon. Streamers just can't get enough of comedies about suburbanites who just happen to live secret lives as spies and assassins, most of which star Gal Gadot. Who is asking for these movies in 2023? Another dated concept streamers love is the sort of apocalyptic thriller that was popular in the years after 9/11 leading up to the uncertainty of 2012. Netflix claims that their most viewed original movie is the Sandra Bullock headlined apocalyptic thriller Bird Box. Sam Esmail's Leave the World Behind, adapted from the novel by Rumaan Alam, is the latest Netflix production to plough this field.

Leave the World Behind review

Esmail has snagged an impressive cast, with Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke playing Amanda and Clay, a middle class couple who decide to get away from New York for a break with their kids, Rose (Farrah Mackenzie) and Archie (Charlie Evans). Renting a plush upscale Air BnB near the beach, they find the WiFi is down, which plays havoc with Farrah's plan to stream the final episode of Friends (which just happens to be the most viewed show on Netflix). At the beach they have an unsettling experience when a giant oil tanker runs aground, a sequence that would be eerily effective were it not for some terrible compositing effects. Returning to their rental home they find that their cellphone networks are down, along with all TV channels.

That night Amanda and Clay are disturbed by the arrival of an African-American father and daughter - G.H. (Mahershala Ali) and Ruth (Myha'la) - clad in dinner outifts. G.H. claims he's the owner of the home, an idea the Karen-esque Amanda struggles to buy into, and that he wishes to stay the night with his daughter while they figure out what's going on. Amanda doesn't like the idea but the chilled out Clay guilt trips her into agreeing.

Leave the World Behind review

This isn't so much the set-up for some ensuing human conflict but rather the sum total of any potential friction between the two couples, who get along quite well once they realise they're in the midst of some sort of apocalyptic event. There's no Night of the Living Dead style quarreling over how best to handle the situation, and none of that film's unspoken but tangible racial tension. I didn't buy Amanda's Karen persona as she seems like exactly the sort of middle class white woman who would fawn over a well-spoken black man in a dinner jacket. Middle class white people don't hate black people per se, they just hate black people who refuse to conform to their standards (this movie is incidentally executive produced by Barack Obama, who is exactly the sort of black man middle class white folks adore).

With no real conflict between the leads, it's a surprise that the threat from outside is never established. We get the obligatory scene of a downed plane - a staple of these movies ever since Spielberg's War of the Worlds adaptation, still the best of the 21st century's apocalyptic thrillers - and there's a clever scene in which dozens of self-driven cars crash into one another, but there's never any discernible threat posed to our protagonists. The movie refuses to indulge who or what is responsible for the chaos, save for leaflets dropped from a plane that read "Death to America" written in Arabic (which, considering the involvement of a former American president, comes off as decidedly tone deaf). After two hours of waiting for something to happen, Kevin Bacon pops up in the Tim Robbins War of the Worlds role, but any potentially tense subplot fails to materialise. A set-piece involving a herd of CG deer is unintentionally amusing, recalling the New Zealand horror-comedy Black Sheep.

Leave the World Behind review

Leave the World Behind could be placed in a time capsule to represent the worst aspects of made for streaming movies of the early 20th century. It looks like a TV show rather than a movie; it's glacially paced and in bad need of some judicial editing; it's 15 years behind the cultural zeitgeist; and in its running Friends gag it features undisguised promotion for other "content" available on the network. The latter does play into an admittedly subversive ending that suggests streaming ultimately can't compete with owning physical media.

Leave the World Behind
 is on Netflix from December 8th.

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