Julia Robers and Ethan Hawke open the door for Mahershala Ali in Leave the World Behind | Agents of fandom

‘Leave The World Behind’ Review: A Promising Premise That Falls Flat

Warning: The following contains spoilers for Netflix’s Leave the World Behind.

The latest Netflix original film Leave the World Behind from Sam Esmail, the writer/director of Mr. Robot, poses as a new and exciting entry into the post-apocalyptic thriller sub-genre. It follows the standard convention set forth by decades of films similar to this — a completely normal, albeit fairly wealthy, family leaves the solace of their home for a weekend away in a rented home on Long Island.

Amanda Sandford (Julia Roberts), who is a genuine misanthrope, convinces her professor husband Clay (Ethan Hawke) and her two tech-obsessed children, Archie (Charlie Evans) and Rose (Farrah Mackenzie), to jet off with her in hopes of some peaceful time away from New York City. All is well until it isn’t.

‘Leave the World Behind’ Sees the End of the World As We Know It

Mahershali Ali, Myha'la, Julia Roberts, and Ethan Hawke stare ahead in Leave The World Behind I Agents of Fandom
Mahershali Ali, Myha’la, Julia Roberts, and Ethan Hawke star in Leave The World Behind. Image Credit: Netflix.

The ruination of civilization is kicked off in amplifying events; first with cell service becoming fleeting, then with a massive oil tanker running aground while they are enjoying the beach, and finally with the ever-so-important Wi-Fi disappearing at the home. Amid these continuously perilous events, they receive a knock on their door in the middle of the night from a man, G.H. Scott (Mahershala Ali), and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la) who claims to be the owner of the home seeking shelter for the night.

As the increasingly treacherous global events like full city power outages and potential hackers overtaking the government start to shift the reality of the world they are now all living in, the Sandfords are quickly forced to make some uneasy decisions about how to proceed with the presence of the unexpected party.

The Post-Apocalyptic Netflix Original Tries To Do Too Much

Myha'la, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke, and Julia Roberts staring in Leave the World Behind on Netflix | Agents of Fandom
After the ominous appearance of a father and daughter, the Sandfords must face tough decisions. Image Credit: Netflix.

Packed with suspense and consistent narrative misdirections that eventually become nothing more than distracting flourishes detracting from the essence of the themes at play, the movie begins as a routinely successful thriller and works as such for quite some time. The dueling presence of G.H. Scott and Ruth against the Sandford family allows for a mysterious dive into how different people approach such catastrophic consequences, touching on the humanitarian core needed to raise the interpersonal stakes.

As G.H. and Ruth end up spending the night, tensions are pulled thin due in part to the lack of trust between the groups. The following day, sizeable groups of deer begin to appear as both Rose and Archie explore the surrounding forest of the property, and Archie eventually gets bitten by a bug. A vociferous noise begins to emit from around them causing the Sandford family to attempt a drive back into the city only to find the highways jammed with self-driving cars — an important if not overt reference to tech’s ability to instantaneously derail standard operating efficiencies of the world.

In between the constant embellishment of camera angles, overwritten dialogue that winds up being less smart than it believes itself to be, and hovering tension are relevant and significant themes that warrant exploration. The film tries to investigate some of the scathing ideas within its grasp — such as humanity’s overreliance on technology, the American supremacy complex, and the ultimate fragility of world governments to floundering success — but it never really sinks its teeth in the subject matter, instead deferring to sleek and stylish camera movements to elicit the next set of anticipations.

Just when the movie fills with suspense, tension, and the potential for a powerful reveal, it pops what has been built and does so with gusto, an unfortunate meta-text on humanity’s perilous need to defer attention from world-altering events to much more shallow moments that flicker with instantaneous visual joy.

‘Leave the World Behind’ Offers Enjoyment, But Ultimately Is Subpar

Mahersha Ali stares out a window with a crack in it in Leave the World Behind I Agents of Fandom
The world around the cast begins to fall apart in Leave the World Behind. Image Credit: Netflix.

Archie’s teeth begin to fall out and Rose disappears, leading to a lackluster climax that, while it again attempts to play its hand at a full house of ideas, sells us on nothing more than a three-of-a-kind. Clay and G.H. are confronted by Danny (Kevin Bacon), a neighbor representative of much of the ideals of right-leaning Americans — focused on blaming the Chinese, hell-bent on government conspiracy, and prepared to readily kill those closest to him to protect his interests. Seeking medicine, guns are drawn and tempers escalate to near-boiling states. This scene, probably the most effective of the entire movie in encapsulating the potential of the film, is just as entertaining and nail-biting as it is relevant to modern-day happenings.

A near-final, sprawling shot of New York City from across the river reveals a Civil War has broken out and society has begun to crumble. Rose is alone in a neighboring house where she has discovered piles of junk food and a premium bunker adorned with all the fix-ins of a post-apocalyptic liveable space, most importantly a working television. As she scans the monstrous walls of physical media, she plucks the final season of Friends from the lineup, a show she has been longing to finish throughout the entirety of the world-ending events playing out. As she clicks play on the final episode, it is clear that she has once again found an opulence of comfort in the people and technology she has grown closest to in her daily life.

Adapted from the romantic thriller by Rumaan Alam, Leave the World Behind offers enjoyment through its engaging cast, interesting cinematography, and sleek sound design, yet it manages to participate in a perpetual pummeling of thinly inspired themes that amount to little more than a subpar post-apocalyptic thriller.

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'Leave the World Behind' Review

'Leave the World Behind' Review
2.5 5 0 1
2.5 rating
Total Score

The Good

  • Sleek, stylish camera movements are engaging.
  • The talented cast does the best with what they're given.

The Bad

  • Spread too thematically thin, which lessens the impact.
  • Overwritten and lengthy.
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