Leave the World Behind – A Netflix Apocalypse in a Remote Getaway

MOVIE REVIEW – “Leave the World Behind” on Netflix is a bittersweet reflection of reality, depicting our apocalyptic fears as justified concerns. Directed by Sam Esmail, the film presents a dark, oppressive yet stirring experience. Adapting Rumaan Alam’s novel of the same name, Esmail makes significant changes, although the book’s psychological depth isn’t fully translated. Combining elements of a psychological thriller and disaster movie, it stars Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke.



Sometimes, it’s comforting, or at least cathartic, to see a film that validates our worries. The looming threats we ponder with apocalyptic fear are indeed drawing near. “Leave the World Behind” (Netflix, December 8) doesn’t shy away from gloom, even overly insisting on the approach of dire events. Adapted from Rumaan Alam’s bestseller, Sam Esmail’s film is a bleak, burdensome experience that is all the more thrilling for it.



Answers to Ambiguity


In adapting the novel, Esmail makes notable changes. He provides concrete answers to the book’s uncertainties—specifically clarifying what is happening during this apparent end of days—while unfortunately losing much of Alam’s internal poetry. The novel is an elegant psychological and sociological study as much as it is a doomsday thriller, but Esmail leans more towards the latter aspect. His “Leave the World Behind” falls short of profundity but still proves to be quite unsettling.

Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke portray Amanda and Clay, a middle-class Brooklyn couple (she claims they live in Sunset Park, he insists they’re in Park Slope) in need of a break. Both working long hours, they feel distanced from each other and their children, teenage Archie (Charlie Evans) and tween “Friends” enthusiast Rose (Farrah Mackenzie). Amanda impulsively rents a house on Long Island, a spacious home in modern farmhouse style with elegant finishes and a swimming pool. The family begins to relax and connect when the house’s owner, G.H. (Mahershala Ali), and his twenty-something daughter, Ruth (Myha’la), arrive late at night seeking refuge.

Amanda is skeptical, doubting their story about a citywide blackout and even their ownership of the house. It seems “Leave the World Behind” is setting up for an exploration of uncomfortable prejudice and property rights, in the vein of a tense seriocomedy akin to a Ruben Östlund film. But it soon becomes clear that something much larger is at play. Cellular service fails; the internet goes down; animals act strangely; a piercing, glass-shattering noise from the sky periodically immobilizes both families.



Familiar Themes, New Wrappings


“Leave the World Behind” includes many known apocalypse tropes, but Esmail employs them innovatively. He’s adept at manifesting tech anxiety, the growing fear that the more we rely on machines for process and function, the more we stand to lose when they fail. Esmail enjoys mocking our softened selves, helpless without our GPS and streaming distractions. Malfunctioning tech can be physically dangerous, too: there’s a chilling—almost comical—scene involving self-driving cars, blindly fulfilling their roles with disastrous results.

But it’s not just technology or its absence causing distress. Each character, in various ways, feels the gnaw of something internal and existential, a sense of alienation in these modern times—disconnected, angry, untrusting, maybe even repulsed. In articulating this, Esmail approaches the lyrical insight of Alam’s prose, capturing contemporary malaise eloquently. The actors shine in these moments, especially Roberts and Ali, who skillfully navigate long, troubling monologues. Amanda, perhaps the most soul-sick of the group, is a fitting match for Roberts’s unique sharpness, as integral to her star persona as her famous cheerfulness.



Authentic Tension Building


Esmail’s dynamic camera work in “Leave the World Behind” does not overshadow the actors’ meticulous performances, who credibly intensify the alarm. We grow fond of our hapless heroes, shaky and flawed as they may be. But the film repeatedly reminds us (especially towards the end) that the world harbors no compassion or empathy for these people, nor for any of us—whether doomsday theorists or oblivious fools. We’re all just temporary guests in something much older than us. The horrors in “Leave the World Behind” might be man-made, but nature contributes its own sinister whispers, murmuring threats and perhaps the faintest of passive warnings.

Here and there, the film stumbles into cliché or stretches believability. For the most part, however, “Leave the World Behind” feels terrifyingly plausible, as if our life’s order could indeed unravel in such a way: noticeable only when it’s too late. The event not just has happened already, it is actually happening. Just look around outside.

-Gergely Herpai (BadSector)-



Leave the World Behind

Direction - 7.2
Actors - 8.2
Story - 6.8
Visuals/Music/Sounds - 8.4
Ambience - 8.2



"Leave the World Behind" presents an intriguing and thought-provoking film that reflects our modern world's apocalyptic concerns. Starring Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke, the film delivers a dark and oppressive experience while blending elements of psychological thriller and disaster genres. The story explores the impacts of technology and societal issues, depicting a world that feels real and unnervingly relevant.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines - including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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