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Should You Watch ‘Leave The World Behind’? Review of Netflix Julia Roberts Movie

leave the world behind netflix movie review

Picture: Netflix

Premiering as the opening night film at AFI Fest this year, Leave The World Behind is the latest film from Mr. Robot & Homecoming creator Sam Esmail, his first since 2014’s cosmic love story Comet starring his now wife Emmy Rossum.

Based on the New York Times bestselling novel by Rumaan Alam, the film centers around married couple Amanda & Clay (Julia Roberts & Ethan Hawke), who decide to take an impromptu getaway with their children to a luxurious house rental on Long Island.

On the night of their first day there, a man and his daughter, G.H. & Ruth respectively (Mahershala Ali & Myha’la), come knocking on their door. Claiming to be the owners of the home, they inform Amanda & Clay of a blackout in the city and offer to refund part of their money to let them stay in the house with them for the night until the blackout is resolved.

With a cloud of distrust & reluctance in the air, the newly assembled families start to slowly encounter strange & disturbing occurrences ranging from ear piercing sounds, drones dropping Arabic language messages out of the sky, deer gathering in massive numbers, satellite network outages, & much more extreme instances that I will not spoil here.

While this may sound somewhat familiar if you’ve seen M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin from earlier this year, I assure you this film does not veer into that direction.

Playing more with the psychological & sociological elements than thrills, violence, & religious cults, Leave the World Behind does wink and nod at the work of Shyamalan – Signs most notably – as well as, M. Night’s biggest influence, Alfred Hitchcock, but it relishes in its commentary & public dissection more akin to the work of Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers, Lost, Watchmen); worrying less about the beginning & end and more about the frantic decisions, moral quandaries, & exposing conversations in the middle that show the characters’ true colors when faced with the worst.

While the book was not written during the pandemic, the film adaptation was notably conceived during the period. The fog of confusion & ever-evolving information leading us into losing sight of our basic humanity is front & center in this story and reflects the feelings of the time. Race, class, & government mistrust are weaponized in every discussion & every decision and gives the film an all too real character in Kevin Bacon’s Danny that gives the most extreme version of the prepper-level skeptic that is confronted with the most basic human plea for help.

Nudging, uncomfortable, & off-balance by design, Esmail tries to keep you guessing by breaking tone & mood when possible and allowing the characters’ growth & motives to lead the way as they are surrounded by layers of chaos. In this way, his actors control the pace & emotional resonance and give us the best aspect of the film itself: the performance.

Led by its Oscar Winners, Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich) & Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, Green Book), the cast delivers in every way. Creating & emoting the intensity and exhaustion of a world descending into madness while slowly building upon enough common ground & compassion to leap over the hurdles placed before them. Myha’la (“Industry”) & Ethan Hawke (First Reformed, Training Day) give great support while previously mentioned Kevin Bacon steals one of the biggest scenes of the film in his small, but pivotal role.

leave the world behind netflix december

Picture: Netflix

While understandable to the type of film Esmail created, the ending of the film may lack something for most of its audience as it did for me. While I will not spoil the film’s closing moments, it just seems deflating to not rally around the characters that we’ve followed so closely to that point and, instead, give way to a smaller but humanizing aspect of relief. I don’t need answers to the outside world, nor a glimmer of hope for their survival, but I do want to see their last looks as we draw the curtains on the story.

Overall, Leave the World Behind is a thrilling drama with our modern post-pandemic trauma on its mind. With drops of disaster films, Lindelof-esque social prodding, Parasite class jabs, & Hitchcockian cinematography, Sam Esmail puts his deep cinephile education on full display. His gift of a cast keeps us in constant anxiety with moments of pure delight led by Roberts, Ali, & Bacon. While the style of thriller Esmail weaves may not be for everyone, it’s hard not to love many of its many bold ingredients.


Watch Leave The World Behind If You Like

  • The Leftovers
  • Signs
  • The Mist
  • North By Northwest
  • Melancholia

MVP of Leave the World Behind

Mahershala Ali as George “G.H” Scott

In an ensemble cast designed to blend the voices & commentary of many different races, classes, & generations, it’s hard to stand out … unless you are 2-time Oscar Winner Mahershala Ali. With a poise and a command all his own, Ali sells his role as a stately, dignified, & intelligent family man with deep connections as easily as anyone could right now. His presence provides an anchor to the story while also starting from a source of discomfort from the outset. You can argue who may be the lead in this film, but you can’t argue who holds the film together. There is also no dispute that his dance scene with Julia Roberts will live with me for some time.

5/5Excellent

★★★★★

Our modern anxieties shown through the eyes of a true student & fan of the art in Esmail. Worth watching for the impressive cast alone. Don’t get mad at me if you don’t embrace the ending!.

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