Many of the characters’ fears are totally relatable, playing off the anxious feeling of being cut off from communication. Without neighbours nearby, they have no idea if the blackout is anything worse than a power-grid failure. But the ominous possibilities quickly pile up. The Sandfords’ daughter, Rose (Farrah Mackenzie, who gives her a haunted look in her eyes) is obsessed with watching Friends, a show that ended before she was born. With her iPad not working, she walks outside, and sees a deer in the backyard. Then dozens more eerily appear, almost translucent. Is she hallucinating or has nature gone awry too? Hitchcock’s The Birds echoes more than once in the film. So does North by Northwest, in an action scene with Ali in the Cary Grant role. Those touches make the film teasing, and prevent it from landing as a depressing real-life threat.
The creepiest episodes are too spoilery to reveal. There has rarely been a traffic jam with such a harrowing cause, another of Esmail’s additions. Conspiracy theories hover over the story too. In a small role, Kevin Bacon plays a survivalist whose crackpot paranoia becomes hard to dismiss.
Leave the World Behind is not especially original; there are too many other apocalyptic movies around for that. But the film, which has Barack and Michelle Obama among its executive producers, is especially timely. Leaflets dropped from a drone saying “Death to America”, either a hoax or a warning, bring to mind the recent resurfacing and deletion of a message from Osama bin-Laden on TikTok. Rose’s attachment to Friends, the most meaningful connection in her life, resonates with the visceral response of so many fans to Matthew Perry’s death last month. Esmail could not have foreseen those connections, but they speak to how attuned to the moment he has made this chilling yet enjoyable film.
Leave the World Behind is released in the US on 22 November, and on Netflix on 8 December.
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