The one book you would take with you in an apocalyptic scenario (after stocking up on water filtration tablets and dry food, obviously) has now morphed into shows. In Leave the World Behind, Rose (Farrah Mackenzie), the 13-year-old daughter of Amanda (Julia Roberts) and Clay (Ethan Hawke) Sandford, is bingeing Friends.
Amanda, an ad exec, decides one fine morning she does not really like people and decides to rent a remote, luxurious house on Long Island for an impromptu holiday. Amanda finds the listing “leave the world behind” attractive. Clay, a media studies professor, goes along with Amanda’s plan, as always, and soon the family of four, including the 16-year-old son, Archie (Charlie Evans), are bowling along quiet country lanes, having left the city behind.
On the last episode on Friends, Rose realises to her horror there is no Wifi and she has no idea what will happens to Rachel and Ross. Amanda goes to town to stock up on food and the family spend a relaxed time at the beach before rushing away in shock as an oil tanker inexplicably runs aground.
After dinner, Rose and Archie go to bed while Amanda and Clay relax over Jenga and wine and then there is a knock on the door. As they reluctantly open the door, they see a well-dressed Black man and a young Black woman. The man introduces himself as G.H. (Mahershala Ali) and the woman as his daughter, Ruth (Myha’la).
G.H. says he is the owner of the house and was corresponding with Amanda over renting it. G.H. and Ruth were returning from a concert when there was a blackout in the city. Not wanting to drive with traffic lights not working and climbing 14 floors to their town apartment with dicky knee, G.H. decided to drive to their country home and hope the Sandfords would put them up for the night.
Amanda is distrustful of the two, with no way of confirming their story of a blackout as the Wifi is out. Clay is more trusting and feels it is right that the two should stay at home, at least till morning when there would be more clarity.
Leave the World Behind
Director: Sam Esmail
Cast: Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke, Myha’la, Kevin Bacon
Run-time: 141 minutes
Storyline: A family vacationing in a remote and luxurious rental on Long Island are caught up with strangers as the world falls apart and they must take a long, hard look at their priorities and prejudices
As the next day progresses, and things fall apart, Amanda, Clay, G.H. and Ruth are forced to look at their attitudes and rethink their prejudices. An adaptation of Rumaan Alam’s 2020 novel of the same name, Leave the World Behind, despite its simple and rather unsubtle messaging, is effective in ratcheting the tension with unsettling music and exceedingly long shots, which reveal the relentless and immovable beauty of nature.
Why Ruth was changed from G.H.’s wife in the book to daughter in the movie is one those inexplicable page-to-screen conundrums. Beautifully acted, with Roberts hiding her incandescent star power behind sunglasses and a prickly exterior, Hawke inhabiting Clay as an well-meaning but ineffectual man, lost without “his cell and GPS”, Ali bringing grace and gravitas to his G.H., and Kevin Bacon bringing a whiff of the outlier to the survivalist contractor Danny, Leave the World Behind is that perfect slow-burn thriller that reels you in with its leisurely start only to trap you with your heart in your mouth at the rapidly deteriorating state of affairs.
Mr. Robot’s Sam Esmail in his third collaboration with Roberts following Homecoming and Gaslit has created an effective “What if” scenario — not so fantastic as to be beyond the realms of probability if not possibility.
Oh, and I would take a box set of Agatha Christie’s Poirot to my doomsday bunker, as who better than the little Belgian detective to use his grey cells to make the world right again?
Leave the World Behind is currently streaming on Netflix