Leave the World Behind

Leave the World Behind (dir. Sam Esmail)

By: Adam Freed

As the world barrels towards the inevitability of implosion, some people just want to watch Friends.  Netflix and writer director Sam Esmail have teamed to craft a whip smart, cinematically appealing brink of disaster film Leave the World Behind.  Marketed on the backs of its bounty of superstar acting talent, Esmail’s film is certainly not for the faint of heart, or for those who gravitate towards conspiracy theory.   What separates Leave the World Behind from most of its doomsday competition is the haunting level of believability at play.  The joy of Esmail’s film is that it will find purchase with a diverity of audiences.  On one hand the film provides audiences with the opportunity to again bask in the glory that is Julia Roberts, on the other Leave the World Behind leaves room for the unscratchable itch of conspiracy that fuels Reddit boards and “deep state” social media threads. For being a rated R end of days simulation, the film truly has something for everyone. 

In search of a peaceful weekend retreat from the grind of their Brooklyn existence, The Sandford family make the short voyage to Long Island to a HGTV ready rental home.  Matriarch Amanda Sanford is layered with a deliciously cool cynicism by Academy Award winner Julia Roberts.  Her husband Clay,  an amiable everyman, is written perfectly for the laissez-faire performance style of four time Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke.  The Sandfords present as a family just beyond financial comfort, but shy of affluence, which is an important decision because it is through their eyes that audiences will be manipulated down the path of dismay.  Buoying audiences to an emotionally trustworthy ally is an important tool in a disaster film, and with four worthy choices, Sam Esmail’s script proves worthy.

The Orwellian events of the film are captured with hints of Hitchcockian precision and restraint as the small ensemble cast is joined by two time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, playing the role of G.H. Scott, an affluent financial sphere insider.  With Scott is his daughter Ruth, in a memorable introduction to the superb Myha’la.  Beyond the film’s initial quarter hour there is very little description that exists outside of the realm of spoiler, and Leave the World Behind is without question a film best enjoyed with as little prior knowledge as possible.  In a genre that has historically been feast or famine, Sam Esmail’s newest addition is a delightfully haunting experience, equipped with numerous memorable set pieces and some truly inspired visual presentation.  Despite the nightmare inducing realities presented in Leave the World Behind the film is an incredibly compelling way to spend an evening. Further proof that in 1987 R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe said it best, “It's the end of the world as we know it, but I feel fine.”

Target Score: 7.5/10  Featuring an outstanding ensemble performance by some of Hollywood’s biggest names, Leave the World Behind is a too close for comfort depiction of what the beginning of the end may look like in the 21st century.