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  • Nate Adams

'Leave the World Behind' review: Star studded cast anchor engaging apocalyptic thriller

Courtesy of Netflix


Cut from the same cloth as this year’s underrated “Knock at the Cabin,” the new thriller “Leave the World Behind” is the latest disaster themed flick where you can’t quite put your finger on it until the final minutes yield some shocking discoveries. It’s also, unironically, a huge endorsement for physical media at a time when Best Buy and streamers are kneecapping that industry. Another bitter irony considering “Leave the World Behind” is debuting on Netflix. But writer-director Sam Esmail, who adapted the Rumaan Alam book, leans into the unknown: the story about a seemingly average American family who become engulfed in a nationwide attack whereby technology and all telecommunications cease to exist.

If anything, the movie shows just how much we rely on technology for basic human functionality. What happens when the Tesla’s can no longer drive themselves? Or the GPS satellites stop transmitting signals. What if you’re on the last episode of “Friends” and the WiFi goes out just as you’re about to press play?! There are worse things in life, obviously, but “Leave the World Behind” showcases the things society takes for granted while also offering insightful commentary on conspiracy theories, perceptions of race, and political turmoil. 

It follows the Sandford family who on a whim decide to take an impromptu vacation at a lavish beach house miles away from civilization. For Amanda (Julia Roberts) and Clay (Ethan Hawke), and their two kids Rose (Farrah Mackenzie) and Archie (Charlie Evans), it’s just what was needed and inadvertently turns out to be a blessing in disguise after the homeowners, G.H. Scott (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la) arrive with news about a blackout in New York City (and needing a safe place to crash). Of course, this discovery is met with a bit of skepticism, especially from Amanda who doesn’t feel comfortable with strangers sleeping in the same house as her kids, but a national emergency broadcast screaming across the airwaves suggests there was some truth to the matter. 

What is the national emergency is anyone’s guess. Rumors suggest it’s a cyberattack, though the movie leaves plenty to imagination. Why are flocks of deer and flamingos gravitating towards the beach house? Can someone explain why drones are dropping suspicious pamphlets in another language that translates: “Death to America?” 

That’s part of the intrigue of “Leave the World Behind” and ascertaining who we, as audience members, can trust is half the battle. The movie invokes enough fear and doubt into the proceedings that, at its peak, gives it a “Twilight Zone” by way of Hitchcock and “The Parallax View” aesthetic. The movie could’ve been trimmed by about 40 minutes, with certain sequences (one which involves those self-automated Tesla’s) overextending their hand. 

In a way, “Leave the World Behind” is as much about the current state of our world as it is about being nostalgic for a more analog time. Often, I do sit back and try to remember what it used to be like before society (including me!) became so reliant on technological advances. Especially as we’ve emerged from the doldrums of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hell, if Facebook or Twitter crashes for 30 minutes, you would think it is the end of the world. 

Esmail has assembled an ace cast to help push the paranoia, Roberts has a commanding presence alongside Hawke who gives the best monologue in the film about how completely useless he feels at a moment of crisis. Two-time Oscar winner Ali always brings a certain type of warmth to his films even when his characters could have ulterior motives; Kevin Bacon brings the heat in a brief scene as a doomsday prepper with nothing to lose; and Myha’la has the swagger and angst as the millennial unafraid of speaking her truth. 


Executive produced by Barack and Michelle Obama through their Higher Ground production company, “Leave the World Behind” has a lot on its mind and though it might not offer the cleanest explanation as to the events transpiring in the movie, there’s plenty to admire, including some stylistic directing choices, be it the oddball musical score, close-up angles, or certain line reading, that give it some flourish. It’s a movie worth getting lost in.

Grade: B 

LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND streams on Netflix Friday, December 8th


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