Sometimes the greatest conflicts in life aren’t caused by external forces, but instead by subtle, underlying issues that are plaguing the domestic family structure. That’s certainly true for the new thriller, ‘You Should Have Left,’ which was written and directed by genre filmmaker, David Koepp (‘Stir of Echoes,’ ‘Secret Window’).
The acclaimed scribe-helmer, who adapted the screenplay for his latest supernatural horror movie from the 2017 German novel of the same name by Daniel Kehlmann, crafted a tense psychological study of the deterioration of a couple’s marriage. The drama’s story focuses on their intense relationship, which is shaken by brushes with the malevolent, and those experiences negatively impacted their relationships with the people they’re supposed to love and trust the most.
Blumhouse Productions‘ latest mystery thriller is now available On Demand, courtesy of Universal Pictures. The film was produced in part by Jason Blum through his production company, Blumhouse Productions, and Bacon, who previously collaborated with Koepp on ‘Stir of Echoes.’
‘You Should Have Left’ follows Theo Conroy (Bacon), a successful middle-aged man whose marriage to his much younger actress wife, Susanna (Amanda Seyfried), is shredding at the seams. Their relationship has been negatively affected by her secretiveness, his jealousy and the shadow of his past.
In an effort to repair their marriage, Theo and Susanna book a vacation at a stunning, remote modern home in the Welsh countryside for themselves and their six-year-old daughter, Ella (Avery Essex). What at first seems like a perfect retreat soon turns into a nightmare when Theo’s grasp on reality begins to unravel. He suspects that a sinister force within the house knows more than he or Susanna have revealed, even to each other.
Koepp generously took the time recently to talk about writing and directing ‘You Should Have Left’ during a roundtable Zoom interview. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed that the movie’s story focuses on how Susanna and Theo’s marriage is falling apart, in part because of the evil elements of their lives together that the house is making them confront together. He also mentioned that he supports Universal Pictures and Blumhouse Productions‘ decision to distribute the drama straight to On Demand during the current COVID-19 pandemic, instead of pursuing their originally intended plan to release it theatrically.
The conversation began with Koepp explaining how the thriller’s story delves into the fact that Susanna and Theo’s marriage is falling apart, in part because they’re having trouble confronting the evil elements that are plaguing their connection, especially after they enter their vacation home. “I’m drawn to stories, especially in horror, that work on both a literal and metaphorical level. This house has levels you don’t know about, and the characters also have depth and aspects that are being revealed as the story goes on,” the writer shared.
“That meant that I had to visually create a space that we initially thought we knew, but then quickly became disorienting,” Koepp further divulged. **SPOILER ALERT** “I wanted the last 45 minutes to feel as though you woke up in a dark, strange room…and you don’t know where the door is. To do that, you have to spend the first 45 minutes thinking you know where everything is.
“So a lot of the takes in the beginning of the film are longer ones that move from one hallway to another. You say, this is here and that’s there, so everyone feels settled, and think they know the house. Then later, when the characters start opening doors that no longer lead to where they thought they led, it shakes up what everyone thought they already knew,” the filmmaker added.**END SPOILER ALERT**
With the film being based on Kehlmann’s book, Koepp then discussed what he looks for in source material when he wants to adapt it for the screen, and how having the novel influenced the way he brought the story to the screen. “The first thing you’re looking for is good characters, because the events of a book aren’t usually” easily adaptable for the screen. “Books and movies are very different, and their stories are told differently. So much of a book is told inside someone’s head, and a movie is so much about what they say and do.
“So you’re looking for characters you can relate to and understand, as well as a premise that feeds your mind, and gives you lots of ideas. In this case, I thought it was a fabulous premise with these central characters who are struggling in their marriage,” the director revealed.
“From there, you invent your own storyline. The book helped with the events, and some of the ideas were great, but a movie’s structure is always going to be different than a book’s structure,” Koepp added.
The filmmaker then admitted that he feels ‘You Should Have Left’ is similar in certain ways to some of his earlier screenplays, such as for ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Death Becomes Her,’ as they can serve as a cautionary vanity tale. “That description may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But there is the old saying, you may be through with the past, but the past may not be through with you. There is a danger in not knowing yourself as well as you should, or pretending that you don’t know yourself as well as you should,” he noted.
“Both Kevin and Amanda’s characters have secrets and aspects of their personalities that they want to hide, and we’re not sure about how we feel about them. We question if they’re both guilty of something,” Koepp continued. “When people aren’t straight with each other, there’s trouble on the horizon.”
With the couple’s secrets eventually coming to light once they’re in the vacation house, the helmer then delved into what the experience was like of finding their primary location. “That process was cool. The first day I met the production designer, Sophie Becher, she had pictures, and one of them was the house we ended up shooting in in Wales. I said, ‘We need something just like that,’ and then we said, ‘Why not that?’
“We then started designing, and the first thing we did was add a second floor, which we did in CG, because I wanted more space and a staircase,” Koepp continued. “Our plan was to shoot the exteriors and some of the interiors in the real location, and then build additional interiors on a stage. We recreated some of what existed, but also took some liberties with it, because the story’s about a house that seems to change and expand before our eyes.
“Doorways would change what they opened to, and new hallways and rooms would appear. So the challenge was to keep straight where every door leads in every scene. We had to keep spreadsheets to keep track of everything,” the filmmaker admitted. “A character could be walking through a door in Wales, and then came out onto a stage in London, and then emerge in a subterranean cellar in (New) Jersey,” where part of the drama was also shot. “There were eight hallways in the script, and they all had names. There were also about 30 doors in the script. So keeping track of what was supposed to lead to what was a real challenge.”
Koepp then delved into how Universal Pictures and Blumhouse Productions originally intended to distribute ‘You Should Have Left’ in a wide theatrical release. But he supported their decision to instead distribute the supernatural horror film straight to On Demand during the current COVID-19 pandemic. “We finished the movie completely in February this year, and we were discussing release plans at the time…We were dealing the question of how do we, as a smaller movie, compete with the bigger films in the theaters, and carve out a space for us for people to find us?
“Then everything shut down, and within a few weeks, Jason Blum and I said that this movie should come out now. Everybody’s stuck at home, and the movie’s about this couple being in this house they can’t get out of,” the director pointed out. “There’s also this big pile up of big movies coming out in theaters when they reopen. So rather than sit around and wait to suffocate in their presence, we thought, why can’t we continue to watch movies at home?
“Universal‘s really led the way with this digital method, and I think it’s brilliant and necessary. Nobody wants to replace going to the cinema; we all can’t wait to go back to the movie theaters,” Koepp added. “But why can’t we continue to find new ways to bring movies to people in ways that are exciting?…I feel that people having conversations about movies with their friends can start again with PVOD. I hope it continues forever, because there are movies I want to experience at home. But there are other movies I must experience in the cinema, so I think we can continue to do both.”