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December 8, 2023 / Netflix Canada

Starring: Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke, Myha'la Herrold, Kevin Bacon, Farrah Mackenzie, Charlie Evans

Directed By: Sam Esmail

A family’s vacation is upended when two strangers arrive at night, seeking refuge from a cyberattack that grows more terrifying by the minute, forcing everyone to come to terms with their places in a collapsing world.

Written By Darren

Rating 4 out of 5

Leave the World Behind is a nerve wracking experience from start to finish thanks to an excellent screenplay from Sam Esmail that keeps the audience intrigued and in the dark as this tale of paranoia, mistrust and the end of the world unfolds with great performances from the entire cast.

There are many movies where you want to know as little about as possible before watching them, and Leave the World Behind is one of those films. Sam Esmail, the creator of the popular television series Mr. Robot, returns with a new thriller that once again is a cautionary tale about the powers of technology, based on the novel by Rumaan Alam. It’s a film that very quickly gets under your skin, that with a talented cast led by Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke and Myha’la, makes for one film that feels too close to real life that will haunt you for long after the credits finish rolling.

While on a spontaneous family getaway, the Sandford family’s trip takes an ominous turn when two strangers claiming to be the family that own the house they have rented appear at their door, asking to stay the night due to a massive state wide blackout. As tensions rise between the two families and all sources of communication and news fail to inform them what is happening to the world, the two families must decide how to move forward with very little information of what is happening outside of the house.

What makes Leave the World Behind an absolutely unnerving and completely thrilling watch is how the events that unfold in the film could unfold the same way in real life. The simplicity in which Sam Esmail presents the story, leaving the audience as in the dark as the characters creates an uncomfortable atmosphere for the story to play out in. Information and disinformation is easily shared, though you’re uncertain which is which, causing a sense of untrust towards the characters and their motivations in regards to the major events they experience as the story unfolds. Slowly and carefully, Esmail reveals detail by detail what is happening on a high level, never fully explaining the situation but giving the audience enough so that there is no confusion over what has unfolded during the film. While playing with themes of cyber attacks, government and international conflict, Esmail balances these ideas with the family drama surrounding our main characters, easily creating emotional stakes as you watch with great anticipation in fear of what could happen next to the characters in this film. It’s a chilling tale told with precision, that though it may not work if you are not in the right mood for the film, creates one nerve wracking viewing experience for those who are sucked into its web of deceit, confusion and paranoia that Esmail has spun.

The design of the film only matches Esmail’s masterful storytelling. There are some exciting camera movements that spin the picture, disorienting the audience to match the confusion that the characters are experiencing, or single fluid movement shots as you move from the top floor of the house to the basement, signaling simultaneously important moments happening throughout the film. Mac Quayle’s musical score plays out like a ticking time bomb, matching the uncertainty and paranoia inherent in the film’s story. Increasing the intensity with each bar of composition, Quayle heightens the film’s most intense moments to ensure your heart is beating faster than normal, helping to complete Esmail’s vision of uncertainty and fear that he unleashes on screen.

With a cast led by Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, and Ethan Hawke, it comes as no surprise that there are strong performances across the board. Each character takes on a different perspective and reaction to the events that unfold, with Roberts’s Amanda acting as the extreme pessimist and completely untrusting the two strangers that appear at their door, Ali’s G.H. the optimist hoping to connect with Amanda and her family on a human level and striving to see the best in them, Hawke’s Clay the more easy going personality and not fully grasping the severity of the situation before seeing hard facts, and Myha’la’s Ruth ability to only see the worst in people and society through her cultural lens. It leaves each actor with a rich character to explore and grow as the events push the characters out of their comfort zones, which is the focus of Esmail’s screenplay, allowing strong character arcs and performances to be delivered, especially from Roberts and Ali who are the standouts of the film. Hawke and Herrold are both great, Farrah Mackenzie and Charlie Evans impress as Roberts and Hawke’s children, and Kevin Bacon is a good addition even if he has a very limited amount of screentime.

There is no doubt that Netflix has a great little film on their hands here, and the star power behind the film should make it easy for audiences to press play this weekend when it begins streaming. With a thrilling slow burn story that slowly gets under your skin that will leave you scared as to what the world’s future could have in store, anchored by two great performances from Julia Roberts and Mahershala Ali, Sam Esmail’s Leave the World Behind is a great watch from start to finish.

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