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Leave the World Behind

Leave the World BehindStarring: Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke, Mahershala Ali, Myha’la and Kevin Bacon
Directed by Sam Esmail
Rated R
Streaming on Netflix

First Impression: “Leave the World Behind” is a tense and unnerving apocalyptic thriller that makes its characters and the audience second-guess everything they took for granted, when modern technology suddenly comes to a halt because of a mysterious cyber attack.
If you’re unfamiliar with director Sam Esmail’s work, you may want to check out some of his previous TV show creations, such as “Mr. Robot,” which is streaming on Amazon Prime Video and “The Resort,” streaming on Peacock.

In these shows you will be able to get a sense of the kind of storyteller he is. Esmail is always looking to make the audience feel a bit uneasy and suspicious as to what is really going on. His use of an unreliable narrator as his protagonist in both of these TV shows makes the audience always have to second-guess what is really going on.
Is what Esmail presents on-screen reality, or just what the protagonist is imagining in his or her head?—or is the truth somewhere in between? And that is what makes his latest film, “Leave the World Behind” so intriguing and frustrating.

Esmail’s distinct style is all over this film and creates a sense of paranoia and dread that is not fully realized or understood by its characters, or the audience for that matter, throughout the majority of the film.

In the film we see a married couple, Amanda and Clay, played by Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke. With their children, they take a spur-of-the-moment vacation to escape New York City. Amanda scores a pretty sweet beachfront Airbnb in Long Island and all seems to be going well… until it isn’t. An utterly strange event takes place with an oil tanker crashing into the beach where the family was lounging, setting off a chain of events because of a nationwide cyberattack that has knocked out all forms of communication and electricity. So, the family heads back to the luxurious Airbnb to hunker down for the night and hope the worst part of these mysterious blackouts end.

But unexpectedly, in the middle of the night, a mysterious man (Ali) and a younger woman claiming to be his daughter (Myha’la) arrive at the house, saying they are the home’s owners. They want to stay there until the cyberattack is over as well. This sets the stage for excellent tension and paranoia to play out throughout the rest of the movie. Are the man and his daughter who they claim to be? Is it inappropriate for them to stay at the house even though it’s been rented for the weekend? And then there’s the racial component as well because the man and his daughter are African-American. Is Julia Roberts’ character in particular extra critical of them because of that? Esmail wants us to look inward at this scenario that’s playing out and begs us to question of what we would do in this situation. Would we work together with others or would we panic and distrust everyone?
This movie is going to be talked about for awhile and has already created a lot of discussion online about the state of our nation as a whole and how susceptible we are to conflicting propaganda that is presented to us as fact.

Final Verdict: 4-1/2 of 5 Stars