In a good haunted-house thriller, architecture is destiny. Early on in “You Should Have Left,” when Theo (Kevin Bacon), a wealthy retired banker with a tabloid scandal in his past, shows up with his movie-actress wife, Susanna (Amanda Seyfried), and their six-year-old daughter, Ella (Avery Essex), at the vacation home they’ve rented for a getaway in the Welsh countryside, you know in your bones that you’re watching a variation on “The Shining.”
The creepy originality of the home design is part of it. Just as the fantastic, gargantuan, ski-lodge-gone-Native-American set for the Overlook Hotel was such a major dimension of Stanley Kubrick’s film, here we’re sucked in by the eccentric contours of a place that looks, from the outside, like a gray designer modernist Bauhaus Monopoly house. Inside, it’s a vast airy network of light gray brick and Scandinavian wood, with flickers of pastel, and the stretching corridors and rooms all look just enough alike that you’re never totally certain where you are or what connects to what.
This, in other words, is a haunted house that’s just far enough away from your image of a haunted house to be a scary haunted house.
The place has a way of inspiring bad dreams. Polaroids keep getting snapped by a mysterious stunted figure who clunks along with a cane. A door will be there, quite innocently, in the middle of a wall, and the next scene it’s gone, and then it’s back. The layout shifts almost imperceptibly, making the place feel, at times, like a Frank Lloyd Wright house drawn from blueprints by M.C. Escher.
Yet the key element borrowed from “The Shining” is the fact that the house doesn’t just impose its own demons, or even just lure out the ones you have. It interacts with your demons and creates a home for them, until it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not, what’s a ghost and what’s in your mind.
I don’t want to make “You Should Have Left” sound better than it is. Written and directed by David Koepp, who adapted it from a 2017 novel by the German author Daniel Kehlmann, it’s a clever and in some ways facile shoot-the-works gothic psychological thriller. In a different filmmaker’s hands, it could easily have been a piece of hackwork. But Koepp, who collaborated with Kevin Bacon once before (on the 1999 paranormal flash-cut vision thriller “Stir of Echoes,” which was a mixed bag), directs this little genre piece with fluid and absorbing skill. The film is cunningly shot (by Angus Hudson) and edited (by Derek Ambrosi), so that you always feel there’s something sinister lurking around the next corner, but when you glance up at the next corner it’s scrubbed and innocuous.
Theo’s wife and daughter keep making cracks about how old he is, and the way Bacon has aged lends a weird resonance to that. At 61, the actor is still spry, without an ounce of body fat, and the same thick tousled hair he had in “Diner” (which was 39 years ago), but his salt-and-pepper stubble and subtle network of creases now lend him the aura of an altar boy who’s slowly crumpling on the inside. The movie colors in Theo and Susanna’s tempestuous relationship, which is tinged with jealousy, and Bacon and Seyfriend make it lived-in. Theo is always secretly monitoring Susanna’s phone and computer (he knows all her passwords), and when he discovers that she actually has two phones, the audience shares his devastation.
We learn about the story from Theo’s past, which has given him a worldwide notoriety. He was found innocent of the crime he was accused of, and when Susanna and their daughter have a talk about the bad thing that happened to “Baba,” it’s a queasy moment the film smartly underplays. In “You Should Have Left,” even the suggestion of sin is never less than human. The movie won’t disturb your dreams, but it grabs hold of you and keeps tugging.