Monday, December 11, 2023

Movie Monday: Leave the World Behind

Saturday night, my husband and I watched the new Netflix movie Leave the World Behind, an adaptation of the novel by the same name, which was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award (my review of the book--no spoilers--here). Like the book, this 2 1/2-hour thriller was full of tension, though the movie built on the foundation provided by the novel.

Amanda Sanford, played by Julia Roberts, surprises her husband Clay, played by Ethan Hawke, with a weekend getaway when she rents a luxurious house on Long Island for them and their two teen kids. As they leave the city behind, each family member is engrossed in their own digital world in the car. They arrive to find the house is even more beautiful than it appeared in the listing, complete with a pool and enormous TV. It's relaxing at first, as the kids play in the pool, and Amanda and Clay begin to unwind, but strange, frightening things begin to happen when the family goes to the local beach the next day. Back at the house, they find the WiFi, cell service, and TV are all out. After the kids go to bed, Amanda and Clay are relaxing with a game and copious amounts of wine when the doorbell rings late at night, startling them. It's a a Black man, who introduces himself as G.H. Scott (played by Mahershala Ali), and his daughter, Ruth (played by Myha'la). Amanda is clearly suspicious that this expensive home is owned by a Black family and shook up to have them show up at the door unannounced. They explain that the power is out across the city, so they returned to their home on Long Island, where it would be safer. Since they did rent the house to the Sanfords, G.H. offers to stay in the basement apartment and refund some of their money, and the Amanda reluctantly agrees. The next day, more strange things happen, and the group of six realize that something very frightening is happening in the larger world, though they don't know exactly what. Forced together by circumstances, they begin to get to know each other and work together to protect their families from this unknown danger.

All of this adds up to a lot of suspense and edgy tension that keeps ratcheting up, as stranger things begin to happen, and it's clear this is not just a simple power outage. In fact, I had very bizarre dreams that night after watching it! It's a long movie, and the underlying feeling of dread just keeps building. It's not just a suspense movie, though. It's also a character study, of what happens when people are randomly stuck together during a crisis, delving into latent racism, class issues, compassion versus self-protection, and more. The novel was very vague about what was causing the problems, and there wasn't a whole lot of action; it was mostly about the characters and the ambiguous tension. Here, we get a lot more action, and while the disaster is never completely defined, there are a lot more hints and information provided as to what is or might be happening in the wider world. In fact, the novel just sort of ended, with no answers, so the movie is a bit more satisfying in providing some hints of what is happening and how things might go in the near future. I enjoyed the novel (on audio) and my husband hadn't read it, and we were riveted by this gripping movie with its all-star cast that is both suspenseful and thought-provoking.

Leave the World Behind was released in limited theaters and is now showing on Netflix.

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