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Leave the World Behind (2023) — Movie Review

Movies & TV

By Mia Taylor

- Dec 8, 2023

Renowned writer and director Sam Esmail, known for "Mr. Robot," brings a fresh post-apocalyptic effort to the screen in "Leave the World Behind." The story revolves around a privileged family finding themselves in the midst of a world-changing event. The lead character, Amanda Sandford, portrayed by Julia Roberts, is a misanthrope dwelling in her upscale Brooklyn apartment. Along with her affable husband Clay, brought to life by Ethan Hawke, and their children Rose and Archie, the Sandfords embark on a weekend getaway to an opulent Long Island mansion.

A familiar plot unfolds as societal breakdown, eccentric characters, and the struggle for survival ensue, a staple in films of this genre. However, "Leave the World Behind" failed to create the powerful emotional stakes needed to drive the narrative successfully.

Another entry in Netflix's holiday release of dystopian-themed films, "Leave the World Behind" draws on elements of the eponymous Rumaan Alam novel and other disaster flicks. The influence of Steve De Jarnatt's "Miracle Mile" is particularly prominent in the film's composition.

The narrative starts with insignificant events - cell service lost during vacation - then escalates rapidly. The arrival of a rogue cargo ship and a city-wide power outage in New York turn their dreamy getaway into a nightmare. They are visited by house owner G.H. Scott (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth, who return due to the blackout, increasing tension and racial conflict between the two families. Here, Roberts' performance as a self-centered and cynic mother steals the stage, however, her character’s lack of depth becomes a hindrance.

Leave the World Behind (2023) — Movie Review

The evolving stakes and Esmail’s love for bold camera movements do incite a sense of fear in viewers. Long pans, high crane shots, and rotating angles capture the ensuing chaos - falling planes, corpses washing ashore, and even rogue Teslas. A sense of innovativeness and raw creativity is hard to miss from the visual storytelling.

However, not all aspects of the movie hit the intended mark. The film heavily banks on the viewers’ appetite for suspense, yet struggles with establishing and actualizing stakes. Notably, the film fumbles in utilizing character deaths, an essential narrative tool in disaster films, resulting in a weak emotional impact.

While engaging and performance-rich, the film distances itself from the audience, failing to offer a key human element. As the narrative stretches its 141-minute runtime, the storytelling starts to lose its footing.

Now playing in select theaters. Also streaming on Netflix from December 8th.


5 / 10

Post-apocalyptic Netflix offering "Leave the World Behind" misses the mark despite a stellar cast and suspenseful plot.