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The Heights Herald

The Student News Site of Columbia Heights High School

The Heights Herald

The Student News Site of Columbia Heights High School

The Heights Herald

Netflix Original suggests a chilling cinematic escape from technology

Stephanie Romero Penaloze
Recurring symbols of nature and technology run throughout the film, serving as ominous warnings.

What makes a movie unsettling? Is it the inclusion of horror–like ghosts or zombies? In director Sam Esmail’s “Leave the World Behind”, the unsettling tone of the movie comes from the plot, which offers a plausible, if frustrating, future for America.

The Netflix original dramatic thriller released in October of last year stars Julia Roberts (“Pretty Woman”) and Ethan Hawke (“The Black Phone”) as a married couple named Amanda and Clay Sandford, along with their two children, Archie and Rose, played by Charlie Evans (“Everything’s Gonna Be Okay”) and Farrah Mackenzie (“Logan Lucky”). The family rents a home for a spontaneous vacation and after a widespread internet and cell service blackout, two apparent strangers, George H. and his daughter Ruth, played by Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) and Myha’la Herrold (“Bodies Bodies Bodies”), show up in the middle of the night claiming the home is theirs. When the blackout persists, George and Ruth are invited to stay with the Sandfords until they gather more details. Many strange things happen, and it slowly becomes evident that George knows something that the others don’t.

“Leave the World Behind” is based on the 2020 novel of the same name by Rumaan Alam. The movie follows its source material very closely in terms of characters and events, with the main difference being that Ruth is changed from George’s wife in the book to his daughter in the movie.

“Whenever something dangerous or creepy happens, the camera sometimes pans in a twisted, upside-down way, making the audience feel off-balance and unstable, just like the characters on screen,” Columbia Heights High School English Teacher Mr. Lucas Toutge said.

Although the movie is not explicitly labeled as a horror movie, it is sure to leave viewers with an unnerving feeling. The offputting characteristics come from the events within the plot and the overall aesthetic of the film. Many scenes in “Leave the World Behind” build slow suspense and tension with music and cutting between scenes featuring different characters, otherwise known as parallel editing. For example, in one part of the movie, the scenes switch between George discovering that something horrific has happened at his neighbor’s beach house, Archie trying to scare Rose with a story while exploring a creepy shack in the middle of the woods and Clay as he speeds away from some sort of plane that seems to be dumping red chemicals as it flies by. This is just one of the many instances in the film where it frightens the audience.

For some, though, this intriguing and heavily mysterious apocalyptic story didn’t land satisfactorily, as can typically be the case with films that rely on keeping information from the audience.

“The plot was interesting, but the ending disappointed me,” Sakeena Janneh (11) said.

Janneh isn’t alone in this opinion, as the reviews for “Leave the World Behind” have been quite mixed. Frank Wilkins of Reel Reviews wrote that the movie is “a thought-provoking journey into the complexities of our contemporary existence”, something we don’t get enough of in modern movies, while Slant Magazine and New York Magazine saw the film’s messaging as cold and bland.

“The story itself was a little slow at times, but this movie is totally carried by its unique story concept: put strangers together without technology or access to the outside world, throw in some creepy, mysterious occurrences, and see what happens,” Toutge said.

The message of “Leave the World Behind”, as with most movies, is going to be up to interpretation by the audience. But in my three times of watching the movie, catching every small detail and foreshadowing, the overarching message of the movie was to point out and criticize how reliant we, as a society, are on technology. Once the internet is cut out, panic, as well as boredom, starts to spread like wildfire. One very prominent scene is when Clay gets lost on his way into town and runs into a Spanish-speaking woman. Even though Clay speaks not a word outside of English, he obviously could tell she was upset and in need of help. Despite this, and his empathetic actions toward George and Ruth, he panics and ends up leaving her stranded on the road, showing how our society breaks down when the internet is taken away from us.

No matter your interpretation of the film, most can agree that it is quite perplexing. Its themes of trying to not rely our entire lives upon technology and showing compassion and understanding to others in times of chaos are incredibly relevant. Hopefully, the United States’ enemies aren’t banding together against us anytime soon, and if so, here’s hoping we can be ready for it.

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About the Contributor
Cassidy Wise
Cassidy Wise, Lead Staff Writer
Cassidy Wise is a junior at CHHS and this is her second year on The Heights Herald — and her first year as Lead Staff Writer for the school newspaper. She spends most of her time outside of school working and playing video games. She has an energetic cat named Jinx with whom she enjoys having slap fights. No cats are harmed in said slap fights.