Leave the World Behind - Movie Review

An apocalyptic tale that goes nowhere.

I try to keep this blog positive, but every so often a movie or show drives me up the wall so much that I just have to rant about it for a minute. Leave the World Behind, a Netflix original, was that movie.

SPOILER ALERT! This review contains spoilers for Leave the World Behind.

First, I feel I must warn you about the TERRIBLE EAR-PIERCING NOISE that happens twice in the second half of the film. This movie should come with a headphone warning. It should probably also come with a trigger warning for the body horror that afflicts one character following exposure to said sonic event. I will say no more about it, but you can ask Google if that sort of thing concerns you.

I had high hopes for Behind due to the cast—Julia Roberts is one of my all-time favs, and Ethan Hawke and Mahershala Ali are terrific actors. Myha'la was new to me, but she also did great with what she was given. The problem is that none of these very fine actors were given very much to work with.

Behind follows two families. Amanda and Clay Sandford (Roberts and Hawke) and their two kids take a spur-of-the-moment vacation to a rental property outside the city. As they arrive, weird things start happening. Wildlife acts oddly in the property's backyard (including a deer staring at them ominously, and a flamingos landing in the pool). A giant container ship runs aground on the beach near them (the most unintentionally hilarious slow-mo disaster scene since the steamroller in Austin Powers). A crop-duster drops what appears to be several metric tons of eerie red pamphlets. Seriously, it's bizarre.

Somewhere in the middle of all the insanity, the power goes out and G.H. and his daughter Ruth Scott (Ali and Myha'la) turn up in the middle of the night, claiming it's their house and asking to stay. They had to leave the city for vague reasons, and a convoluted series of coincidences leaves the Scotts without any way to prove they own the place. (Seriously? Not a single photo exists anywhere in the house? No address on the vehicle registration? Nothing?) Amanda's skepticism comes across with racist undertones, but the movie works so hard to make the Scott's story suspicious I thought they wanted the audience to believe they were scam artists!

There's some cool setup here. Two different families sharing a house in the middle of an unfolding disaster. An undercurrent of racial tension. The fact that these people are all woefully unprepared for a disaster. Unfortunately, the movie turned out to be "Mystery Box Storytelling" at its worst. All mystery—no payoff. Nothing is explained; nothing makes sense; nothing gets resolved; and there are large stretches of the movie where absolutely nothing happens.

I've read the movie's defenders arguing that the ambiguity was the point. The movie is heavy with symbolism and social commentary, and that kind of character study might be enough for some.

For me? I can only get into a character study if I'm invested in the characters, and all the people in Behind are massively unlikable. Amanda is snarky and horrible to everyone. Clay is useless and kind of sleazy. G.H. is aloof and keeps secrets for no apparent reason. Ruth is just angry most of the time. The Sandford kids are entitled and one-dimensional. And no one in the entire movie speaks like an actual human being. The film is filled with pretentious, clunky dialogue like:

"When I couldn't fall back asleep this morning, I came over here to watch the sunrise. I saw all these people starting their day with such tenacity, such verve, all in an effort to make something of themselves, make something of our world."

Who talks like that?

Lastly, I must address the deer, which feature in what passes for the movie's climax.

These CGI monstrosities were so jarringly out of place that I actually typed in my notes:

What is up with the CREEPY GIANT MUTANT DEER?
Has no one on this film even seen a deer?

Then, as two characters just stand there staring at them, feeling threatened despite an open door just behind them:

They're deer. They can't open doors!

Ahem. It really bothered me.

Director Sam Esmail told Tudum:

"Deer are peaceful creatures. To turn that sweet image into now this sort of ominous, menacing, almost warning – I thought was really interesting."

It really wasn't.

Leave the World Behind is still on Netflix, if you must.


  • Princess Power: 2 Stars
  • Overall: 2 Stars
  • Bechdel Test: Eh.

Learn about my Ratings System.

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Mom. Writer. Gamer. Geek.
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