'You Should Have Left' Traps Kevin Bacon in a House of Psychological Horrors
Thrillist spoke with stars Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, and director/screenwriter David Koepp about their new horror film, 'You Should Have Left.'
"You know the old saying, 'you may be through with the past but the past isn't through with you'?" David Koepp, the screenwriter and director behind Blumhouse's newest film You Should Have Left asked Thrillist during the movie's virtual press junket. "I think that there is a danger in not knowing yourself as well as you should or pretending not to."
It's a simple statement, but one that digs directly to the core of the movie, which was adapted from German author Daniel Kehlmann's novel of the same name. In the film, which hits VOD on June 18, struggling married couple Susanna (Amanda Seyfried) and Theo (Kevin Bacon) take a much-needed vacation to the Welsh countryside. But while the concept of taking a break from the cluttered chaos of city life sounds great, to find peace of mind and to reconnect, their trip ends up doing the opposite, and some unspoken issues and deep-seated traumas find their way to the surface and tear their union apart.
"It's like, all of a sudden, you have tinnitus and it's just like ringing and getting louder, and then you just have to implode or explode," Seyfried commented, acknowledging that the marriage between these two damaged characters "is so fucked" and simmering, waiting for the right moment for things to eventually boil over.
It's clear that these two people do not belong together, from the secrets they keep hidden from each other, exacerbating the couple's trust issues, as well as their own traumas they decide to keep hidden instead of outright acknowledging. There's this unspoken thought that, if it weren't for their daughter Ella (played by newcomer Avery Tiiu Essex) -- a character who Seyfried acknowledged as "an obvious mistake" in their damaged relationship -- the two may not have stuck together for so long.
There's also the glaring age difference between Bacon, who is 61-years-old, and Seyfried, who is 34. When the trailer first premiered, the Internet was quick to respond to the tired Hollywood trope of coupling up an older man with a much younger woman. But according to Koepp, this was a calculated decision in the story and it's a detail that not only informs the disconnect in Theo and Susanna's marriage, but explains a lot about who Theo is and the completely messed-up fork-in-the-road he has come to.
"You know, in High Noon, Grace Kelly's 21 and Gary Cooper is 53. An older powerful rich man and a young beautiful woman -- you've seen it a million times in movies, and it's usually just bad casting or nefarious motives," Koepp added. "I wanted to say from the first scene, he's far too old for her and this marriage is flawed; that's part of what this movie's about. I want the audience to see what tensions and jealousies and suspicions can arise because of that difference."
"Not only is his wife way too young for him, he's also kind of old to have a new child, you know?" Bacon added. "So, we found that there was going to be some kind of interesting dynamics to the fact that this is a man who is not at a point in his life where he really feels like he wants to get down and play blocks or try to explain simple lessons to someone."
A specific trauma in Theo's life, one which involved an unfortunate death from the past, keeps him in a stagnant place as well. It's as if this watershed moment in his life is continuing to follow him around like a heavy shadow. And the use of shadows is a recurring theme here, symbolizing the demons we try to keep hidden and the darkness we may spend too much time running from. But Theo tries the best he feels he can under these circumstances to cope. We see him listening to audio affirmations and attempting to regularly journal through the pain. But one can only run for so long before the past, as Koepp said, catches up to us.
"At what point have you paid for your sins and at what point do you still have more to be accountable for?" Bacon asked. "Is it possible to ask for forgiveness and have your slate wiped clean or not? I think this movie, in a way, kind of asks more questions about that than it does answer."
Leave it to a cool-looking (albeit haunted-as-hell) house in the middle of Wales to be the spot where everything comes to a head. When looking at Life House, the real-life home that's used as the creepy structure where everything goes down, it's hard to see it as a haunted house -- at least, not the type you've seen countless times before in scary movies. This is a place more akin, according to Bacon, to the likes of the architectural house featured in the Oscar-winning film Parasite. And much like in Bong Joon-Ho's movie, the house in You Should Have Left is its own character as well.
"This was an interesting journey because David was specific that we not use a kind of trope of a haunted house -- not creaky antiques and not gothic, ivy-covered," Bacon said. "I think that one of the challenges of something like You Should Have Left is that a lot of it is brightly lit, and making scary movies when things are well lit is hard to do. There's some dark stuff too, but there's a lot of it that's kind of creepy, even though the lights are on, and I thought he did a really good job with that."
Much of the house's mythology is left to the imagination, and Koepp was pretty tight-lipped in delving deeper into the structure's history. However, he did give a little insight into the purpose of the place, which may or may not add any clarity, depending on your own specific perspective of the world: "The concepts of guilt and purgatory are really strongly in my subconscious. So the idea of a place you go to and get stuck in until you work out your past sins, your misdeeds, your transgressions… that's what this is all about. I think there are numerous spots like this all around the world. This is just one of them."
With You Should Have Left, Koepp subverts multiple genre tropes, and the biggest one that left an impact was the heartfelt bond between Theo and his 6-year-old daughter, Ella. As much as Theo tries to run from the growing danger that's lurking through every odd hallway and mysterious door, it's the unconditional love that exists between father and daughter that offers an engaging emotional foundation to the story, which offsets the fractured foundation that exists both at the core of Theo and this unnerving house.
"[My daughter] was around 6 or 7 when I was writing it, so I had her very much in mind," Koepp admitted. "I find that relationship really, incredibly touching and the fact that Kevin's character is an older dad; he knows he's too old for the woman he's married to, and probably too old to really enjoy this kid. He knows he's not going to be around for her entire life. That's that stuff that I found really powerful. And I wanted to make a scary movie, but I wanted to make a scary movie that had some of those really powerful themes in it."
Much like recent horror outings The Haunting of Hill House, Doctor Sleep, and The Lodge, You Should Have Left gives generational trauma a home. Yet, instead of falling victim to another overused storytelling device, Koepp's movie sidesteps the creepy child horror trope and positions Ella in the unlikely hero position. As Theo falls deeper into the trappings the house has to offer (and as he's faced with the demons and the shame of his past) his daughter becomes the one he needs to save -- not just from the supernatural dangers of the house, but from this wound of his that just won't heal.
"He adores her and has a love for her that is as deep as it could possibly run," Bacon added. "Theo pushes back really hard when Susanna starts to try to explain that [Ella's] father has some darkness in his past. I think that the movie is about standing up and taking consequences and being honest, including to the extent that he can be honest with his little girl."
Koepp agreed, adding, "They both have complex stories, both the mom and the dad, and what they can't do is allow their kid to get caught up in that muddy swirl, and sucked down into it. That's the story of parenthood: If we can shepherd them through this without them getting caught up in our bullshit, it would be great. And we do that with varying degrees of success at varying times. But you want them to be able to grow up clean and go on to live their own bullshit and not have to get sucked down in the whirlpool of yours."
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