You Should Have Left Explained- The House Of Leaves You Can’t Leave Behind
You Should Have Left from the novel of the same name by Daniel Kehlmann has been compared to House of Leaves. They both feature an ever-changing house where space and time mean nothing. It does share quite a few similarities with HoL. It also stems from the same dark corner as Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation, in that both feature a whopping dose of existential dread.
In Annihilation, the focus of that dread is very much a tower(sound familiar) that seems to have no end and is filled with unknowable things. Like the Lighthouse Keeper, who is confined to the tower forced to write the poems of the dead for eternity, Kevin Bacon’s character must make a final decision to save his daughter and remain in the house. He is paying penance for the murder of his former wife. You should Have Left is about your past catching up to you and the sacrifices we make for our children.
Theo, his young wife, and child travel to Wales to spend some time together before she has to leave for eight weeks to star in a movie. The family stays in a gorgeous modern house that is more than meets the eye. Unfortunately, strange things begin happening immediately that put even fundamental physics into question. Here are all the things you may have missed.
Everything happened before and it will happen again.
The ending likely will have everyone’s head spinning with all the different shadows, memories, and “others” floating around. That confusing ending weaves several past, present, and future events together as Theo(Kevin Bacon) sees his own past events fold in on themselves. All of the different memories represent a specific time and emotion the character is feeling. For example, the initial Theo to enter the house is optimistic, while the final Theo left at the home is a dark, lonely figure residing in the house out of duty, not desire. He has no choice but to stay to save his daughter.
The house continues to seek those who belong there. Those that have terrible things to hide and those who are the wrong side of righteousness have a lot to fear from this house. It is a never-ending cycle of bait and capture. The house lures you in using any means possible and then seduces you with false threats and fake promises. In a word, it’s your own personal Hell. Theo tries to warn his future self about the house but by the time he writes the words, it’s too late. He is stuck in Hotel California. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
Secrets and guilt will eat you alive.
He probably has been locked in the house since before You Should Have Left started. Maybe he has been there since his first wife’s murder. If Hell is both a physical place and a state of mind, Theo has been cooking in a stew of self-loathing and shame for years. He was prosecuted for his first wife’s death, but with money and stature, he was wasn’t convicted. That doesn’t mean he didn’t do it, and, in the final act, he finally admits he is the monster the public at large thought he was. The voiceover by an English-accented self-help guru tells Theo dreams are your unconscious trying to get out. It is your mind’s way of reconciling everything you have done and what you are afraid of. For Theo, he has a lot to atone for and be frightened of.
Everyone in town knows what the house is and knows if you are staying there, it’s for a reason.
At one point Susanna (Amanda Seyfried) tells her daughter Ella(Avery Tilu Essex) some people believe if you have been accused of something you must have done something. Basically, where there’s smoke there is fire conceptually. Susanna and Ella trust Theo completely but early on Theo acts as if he is wracked by guilt. In the beginning, we do not know if he is plagued by guilt over her suicide or something worse. By the end, we know, he let her die.
The town has lived with the house since its inception. The general store owner tells Theo a house has always sat there but not in this current form. It has been many different houses, including a tower. The legend is the devil just keeps building houses, and God keeps tearing them down. Those in town know it’s a bad place for bad people. Everyone knows if you have rented the home, there is a reason, and they wisely stay as far away as possible. For Theo, he belongs there and learns you can’t outrun your shadow.
Hell is a place you create.
In the final act, Theo got what he thought he deserved. Arguably he did deserve to stay in Hell while Ella and Susanna escaped. He was a repressed, angry man who let his first wife die and now lives with the crushing guilt. He is insecure in his relationship with his current much younger wife(for a good reason we find out) and continuously tries to control his narrative in both public and with his daughter. The house shows him exactly what he needs to see to scare and manipulate him. It endangers his child and forces him to face his past.
Susanna is guilty of adultery. She has been hiding two phones and even worse an affair with Max. To make matters worse, it is hinted strongly that Ella may not be Theo’s child. Ella is innocent, but she also is affected by the house. Both Ella and Susanna have bad dreams when staying at the house. The house uses their minds against them. For Theo, it is Ella in danger and being left behind while those he loves move on without him. He is insecure about his age, his wife’s youthful needs, and the darkness that lives in him. Susanna doubts her acting prowess, and Ella fears being separated from her parents.
The house’s current owner has some curious affiliations.
The vacation home featured in You Should Have Left is owned by the mysterious Sattler. He built the home, and the townsfolk refer to him with whispered undercurrents of disdain and fear. That’s reasonable considering he is the actual Devil. Curiously, the Statler Brothers wrote a song called Beat The Devil in 1975 about Jesus defeating Satan in the desert. Three times Satan tried to trick Jesus, and each time Jesus won. Theo did not fare as well. Almost from the start of the vacation, Theo is confused, vulnerable, and definitely corrupt.
Adonism is a Neopagan religion founded by German esotericist Franz Sattler. Among other things, he believed the most powerful of his five Gods is Adonis, who is equivalent to Christianity’s Satan. Humorously Franz Sattler was a gifted linguist, while Theo, who later becomes Sattler, can’t even recognize English. American Aleister Crowley is a contemporary counterpart. Adonism is often referred to as Satan worship with a focus on sexuality. Theo and Susanna have a lot of sex in the short time we see them and likely its because they both are desperate to prove something. Susanna wants to show she still loves him, and Theo needs to prove he is still virile.
You Should Have Left wasn’t the scariest film you will see this year. Nor is it the most mysterious. It is a slow burn that offers just enough slick tricks, stunning set designs, and quality acting to make it worth your time. Bacon, Seyfried, and Essex make the movie compelling. The house is cool, and there are a few moments that almost give you House of Leaves vibes. There is one particular scene of Theo running up the stairs that worked in conveying the kind of fear HoL and Channel Zero’s Dead End House create. It wasn’t perfect, but at the very least, it will make you think about your own mistakes and answering that next Airbnb recommendation.
As the Television Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I’m not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret, there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.