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Shudder Secrets: Leave Explained

Occult horror has made a big comeback over the last decade, with notable movies like Starry Eyes, Hellbender, The Witch, and Hereditary, just to name a few. Leave is Shudder’s latest premiere, and it certainly falls into the occult horror realm. The movie begins with a baby abandoned in a graveyard, wrapped in a blanket with Satanic symbols. From there, Leave becomes a tight thriller about a young woman trying to piece together her identity.

This is the type of film that has several turns before it arrives at its eventual conclusion. It requires patience, but once the mystery is finally resolved, it feels like it was worth the wait. There’s a bit to unpack with this one. Some light spoilers below.

Leave’s Exploration of Identity

Leave’s entire premise centers around Hunter White (Alicia von Rittberg). She’s the child shown at the beginning of the film, abandoned in a cemetery, wearing nothing but a wolf’s cross necklace and a cloth with Satanic symbols. Yes, it’s quite an opening. Fast forward 20 years. Hunter is all grown up, and she’s eager to discover the truth about her origins. She’s supposed to be off to college at Georgetown, but what she doesn’t tell her dad, played by Raylan White, is that she instead makes a trip to Norway to uncover her origin story.

It turns out that Hunter’s mother, Anna (Maria Alm Norell), has been presumed dead. Once in Norway, Hunter encounters various people that knew her, including her former black metal bandmate, Cecilia (Ellen Dorrit Peterson). Finally, thanks to Cecilia, Hunter starts piecing together her own story and that of her mother’s. She also visits Anna’s former lover, Kristian (Morten Holst), who is suspected of murdering Anna, though from his first introduction, that seems unlikely. It’s evident he really loved Anna, though he tells Hunter that she didn’t want a daughter, and that’s why she abandoned her in the cemetery.

It’s clear from the first act that this movie has a lot of red herrings regarding what happened to Anna and Hunter’s true origins. Things become even murkier when Hunter meets her grandparents, Torstein (Stig R. Amdam) and Lillian (Ragnhild Gudbrandsen). However, the answers they provide Hunter only offer more confusion. In fact, of the ones Hunter meets in Norway, Cecilia and Kristian appear to be the only ones who offer any semblance of truth. It’s not clear, immediately at least, what Hunter’s grandparents may be hiding, but something sure seems fishy.

Leave and Patriarchal Religion

Not long after meeting her grandfather, Hunter has a rather intense conversation with him. He asks her if she obeys her father and then they both discuss the 4th Commandment in depth. For those who slept through Sunday school, this is the one about honoring thy father and mother. This is the first serious red flag. It turns out that good old granddad considers himself quite a devout Christian and believes that a woman should heed a man’s word.

As the film progresses and eventually reveals its answers by the last act, we see just how far grandad’s beliefs go. He doesn’t trust women, and in fact, he punishes them. This is why Anna abandoned Hunter in the cemetery 20 years earlier. She didn’t want her daughter to suffer the same brute, tyrannical rule that she endured under her father. In other words, Anna did what she had to in order to protect her daughter. When Anna’s fate is eventually revealed, let’s just say it’s pretty heartbreaking and shocking. She suffered her father’s abuse, like other women in her family, terrorized by the men and killed if they didn’t obey.

Leave and the Power of the Feminine

There’s an undercurrent throughout Leave. The men in the movie, not only grandad, but also Hunter’s cousin, Stian (Herman Tømmeraas), generally fear and want to control women. This includes Hunter. They’re afraid of her, and it’s hinted at more than once that Hunter just may possess powers going back generations in her family, passed down from woman to woman. Dear old granddad sees it as the work of Satan, but it’s something much more ancient than that. It’s also likely why Anna wrapped her daughter in a cloth with symbols and gave her a wolf’s cross necklace. It was meant to protect her.

The fear of the feminine, or even pagan rituals, is nothing new. However, Leave uses these fears in a creative fashion to really flesh out Hunter’s character arc. Eventually, she comes into her own and harnesses that ancient power to enact revenge on the men who try to stifle a woman’s power and agency.

While Leave has a few gory scenes, it’s more of a thriller than a straight-up horror movie. Still, it’s an intriguing feature about a woman who comes into her own and grows comfortable with her budding power. It’s lifted by stunning cinematography and von Rittberg’s grounded performance.

The film premieres on Shudder on March 17. Keep updated on the streaming service’s latest content by following my Shudder Secrets column.