Netflix has yet again put themselves in a conversation that is dividing fans. “Leave the World Behind” is a film with lots to say, beginning with a family that rents a house for a weekend getaway. But when a pair of strangers knocks on their door in the middle of the night, they inform the guests that they are the owners. Outside of natural suspicions, they also inform the guests that there is a blackout in the city. Without working technology, both groups of people must figure out the truth in the matter while the world around them becomes increasingly unstable.
What I love about “Leave the World Behind” is the discussion surrounding it. I watched it with a group of friends that all felt differently about it. Each of us felt very strongly about our likes and dislikes, which makes for good discussion after the film ends. There are some interesting approaches to the way the story is presented. Camera angles, performances, themes, and character interactions are all unique to this film. I’ve never seen such a strange yet alluring story. Whether I was enjoying the tense interaction or bewildered with certain character choices, I can honestly say the film kept me guessing.
Performances from Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, and Ethan Hawke help anchor the film when the script gets messy. They really sell the story and commit to their characterization. Each of them provide a unique approach to the events that transpire, giving audiences a glance at how real people might respond if our country loses the ability to communicate via technology. The entire premise is unsettling, and on a personal level I related to the concerns about technological reliance that our world faces. What I found fascinating is that the children in the film seemed to respond to the crisis differently than their parents. Their concerns are not the same and they process the events differently. The way characters behave in the film will divide audiences. For me, I liked how certain over-the-top deliveries highlighted the ideas the filmmakers are showcasing.
“Leave the World Behind” isn’t trying to appeal to everyone. It knows some viewers will eat the message up, while others will find it to be a vulgar experience. It goes full steam ahead in its presentation. Even though I don’t believe the execution is as good as it should have been, I appreciate the unique approach and willingness to be polarizing. This is a film that is so timely, crafting a conflict that could happen today. Each conversation in the film about the blackout, government oversight, corruption, privilege, and human nature had my eyes glued to the screen. The story’s pacing unfolds the plot at the rate it wants to. It doesn’t feel like a massive Hollywood production. Each section of the film takes its time and subverts expectations around every corner. This will upset many viewers, but I admire the filmmakers for a gutsy approach.
What makes this movie interesting is that it does a lot well, yet fumbles in too many areas to overlook. There are lots of glaring issues that act as anchors slowing down a ship. There are some drone shots used to shoot the characters from above, but it circles around them without much reason. It didn’t add anything to these scenes and frankly gave me a headache watching it happen. There are some extremely awkward character interactions that don’t feel organic. The way they talk to each other feels like a Shakespearean dialogue script that is unintentionally hilarious. This isn’t always the case, but a few sequences fall into this trap.
The script is also one of the weakest I’ve encountered in a film this year. Some unintentionally silly exchanges happen where the dialogue is beyond strange. There were many times where other people viewing the film looked at each other with a flabbergasted expression on their face. I was truly baffled that this script passed through the production process. Pacing was also an issue. With a film this dense covering a subject so interesting, it’s important to keep viewers’ interest building as the film progresses. Since the story is split into five parts, each feels a bit different from one another and doesn’t flow as a singular story. Part four is especially dull and feels inconsequential to the rest of the story. The payoff will also create discussion. Some will enjoy the unexpected ending but I’m sure it will infuriate others. To say the least, this film will be divisive.
“Leave the World Behind” is certainly a discussion starter. Some will enjoy its unique approach while others will find it to be a waste of time. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. I would say I enjoyed the film for its unique presentation and thoughtful exploration of a very timely issue. But there are some undeniably amateurish execution from a filmmaking standpoint that bring the film down. Check it out for the interesting subject matter, but be prepared for a long debate with others who will likely have strong feelings one way or another.