2023 | rated R | starring Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke, Myha’la Herrold | directed by Sam Esmail | 2h 18m |

A family from New York spend the week at a lavish AirBnB out in the woods, several miles from the city at the insistence of burned out mom, Amanda (Julia Roberts). Soon Amanda, husband Clay (Ethan Hawke), son Archie (Charlie Evans) and Friends-loving daughter Rose (Farrah Mackenzie) find themselves without wi-fi, power and in isolation, when a man (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter (Ruth, Myha’la Herrold) appear in the middle of the night, in black tie, claiming to be the homeowners and asking to return because the blackout has spread all over the city.

I’ve come to really like these, for lack of a better word, Pre-Apocalypse Movies. The movies that don’t show us a scene of chaos breaking out in the city and cut to a “15 years later” title card and spend the rest of the time walking around the ruined landscape. It’s how World War Z worked and how last year’s gruesome The Sadness worked. Sam Esmail’s Leave the World Behind is a pre-apocalypse movie without the big city chaos of those films. It chronicles a gradual decline in society as systems start to go down and people gradually start to get cut off from each other, as disbelief turns to a quest for answers, turns to resolution. The End is here. Esmail brings his touch for contemporary commentary of Mr. Robot and his work with Julia Roberts in Homecoming to the film with a slow-burn ice-cold finish.

The film starts touching on the same vibe as last year’s Barbarian, exploring the discomfort of this weird trust situation we put ourselves in by staying in someone else’s home via the now totally normal AirBnB concept. Like that movie, strangers wind up in the same house and square off over whether they can trust one another. Roberts plays it immediately suspicious, Hawke, the easy going husband assuming the best, Myha’la tinging everything with racial sensitivity and Ali playing it “suspiciously nice”. Soon, things will happen that will shift the tone and force the group together. The interplay between the actors and these very different characters is a lot of fun.

The film has a very M. Night Shyamalan-ian vibe. Everyone talks in that staccato dialog style, there are long shots of people looking at something before showing us what they are looking at and the film skillfully gives us glimpses of the outside world through TV and internet broadcasts to paint an epic picture on a budget scale. A much better take on the apocalypse than this year’s similarly confined Shyamalan effort Knock at the Cabin. We get a handful of effective glimpses that the outside world is broken, like a lady by the road begging for help or a runaway tanker ship going from a distance to suddenly a looming threat to the beach.

While the actors and the character interplay sells it, when stepping out of the systemic destruction of civilization, it gets in over it’s head with the deeper themes. Most of what Esmail has to say here are age-old and inaccurate tropes that are actually contradicted in the movie itself. Activating the *Deep Movie Analysis Chamber*, Esmail’s film continues to perpetuate the trope that humans will turn into savage animals when the lights go out or modern conveniences go away. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is nonsense, perpetuated by a school curriculum reading Lord of the Flies and contradicted every time a natural disaster turns off the lights and rises the water and humans pull together to help each other. Contradicted when a false air missile goes off in Hawaii and people’s instinctive response is to help children into sewers to avoid the blast at their own risk. Still, it persists, at the hands of people like Esmail and film producers Barak and Michelle Obama. The involvement of the Obamas is a particularly bad look given the film’s stance on who is, most terrifyingly, behind our government narratives and the story’s commentary on the “divided nation”. It makes the movie seem like a psy-op to divert from the President of the United States’ inescapable role in that division.

Still, I was riveted by Leave the World Behind, the performances and the piece-by-piece methodical way it set about destroying society. The film is filled with twists and reveals, well paced out and coming together in a climax that pulls (almost) everything together without over-explaining it to us. I really enjoyed it.