Review of Leave the World Behind: A Thriller Filled with Apocalyptic Paranoia, Starring Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke.


Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, and Ethan Hawke star in this sleek, Shyamalan-style apocalyptic-paranoid conspiracy film, based on the 2020 bestselling novel by Rumaan Alam. It is a prime example of the growing trend in movies: sprawling, lengthy, episodic films that blur the line between traditional feature films and streaming TV series. Amat Escalante’s Mexican thriller Lost in the Night is another film that falls into this category – a movie that stretches on, leaving room for a possible second season like a meandering story. (Ridley Scott’s upcoming Napoleon epic for Apple TV also embraces this hybrid format, with additional content tailored for the small screen – although, to be fair, he doesn’t exactly leave things open-ended.)

Amanda and Clay, a wealthy couple living in Brooklyn, have two teenage children. Amanda is a skeptical advertising executive and Clay is a relaxed professor of humanities. They impulsively decide to spend a weekend at a luxurious Airbnb mansion outside the city. However, their trip takes a strange turn as they encounter storms, phone and wifi issues, and witness something disturbing at the beach. That night, two unfamiliar individuals arrive at their doorstep – a sophisticated man and his college-aged daughter, portrayed by Mahershala Ali and Myha’la Herrold – with a seemingly valid reason for wanting to enter their home. Unfortunately, things take a disastrous turn.

As the disaster intensifies, the movie’s soundtrack of impending terror gradually grows louder and louder, but never quite reaches a peak of fear or significance. A group of deer repeatedly gathers around the property, reminiscent of Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” before scattering again. It is possible that someone has been residing in the nearby shed. A woman, clearly terrified, yells at Clay in Spanish from the road. A lot of unfortunate events are taking place and more are sure to come. Writer-director Sam Esmail often divides the focus between two or three separate crises involving the ensemble, resulting in a somewhat contradictory effect. And then what? The final scene elicits a dark, hearty laugh – although we have been led to it down a long and winding path.