America falls in “Leave the World Behind”

Mahershala Ali, Myha’la Herrold, Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke star in the new apocalyptic thriller, “Leave the World Behind,” releasing and streaming exclusively on Netflix. // Photo courtesy of IMDb

“Leave the World Behind” is a new thriller about the end of America starring Julia Roberts (“Pretty Woman”) and Ethan Hawke (“Dead Poets Society”), who play Amanda and Clay Sandford respectively. 

The story is captivating as vacation turns into chaos when cell service disappears, roads shut down and planes crash into the ocean with no explanation. 

This isolation leaves them with one source of contact — a father-daughter duo they have never met, G.H. Scott (Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”) and Ruth Scott (Myha’la Herrold, “Industry”).

Many of the characters portrayed have an unpleasant “holier than thou” attitude as they all experience the apocalyptic shutdown. Amanda, a rather unlikable character, makes racist comments to Herrold’s lively character, Ruth, throughout the entire movie without a redeeming moment or sense of regret. 

Other characters, like Clay and his son Archie Sandford (Charlie Evans, “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay”), have selfish characteristics and hasty judgment that is off-putting. 

Although frustrating to watch, this purposeful script reflects the carelessness society has developed concerning others.

Despite unlikable characters, the cinematic choices are fascinating. The camera goes through the floorboards, circles the windows  and uses angles not typically seen in movies. “Leave the World Behind” provides a sense of eeriness that makes the audience worry for the families’ safety through uncomfortable, close zooms into the character’s eyes, as each person looks upon the destruction of their world.

The film shows how each character is so focused on their personal needs that they are unable to work together. Clay and Amanda’s daughter Rose Sandford (Farrah Mackenzie, “The Big Bang Theory”) is extremely stressed due to missing the last episodes of “Friends,” because of the blackout, which feels dramatic. However, our reality would look very similar if stripped of all connection, internet and entertainment.

The suspense of the movie is developed quite effectively, too. The audience experiences the mystery along with the characters, anticipating the next catastrophe right along with them. Ali’s character has a charming disposition, yet his intentional withholding of information about the isolation raises questions about his intentions. 

When he finally reveals his insights, he turns out to be the most selfless, rational character, in contrast to Amanda’s tendency to simply lie by the pool with Ruth.

Despite the meticulous building of suspense and wonder, the ending is anticlimactic. Audiences watch through the end credits hoping for some sort of closure to no avail. While the ending emphasizes society’s obsession with media and inability to reckon with the destruction of the world, it would have been more entertaining to allude to the characters’ fates. There is no neatly wrapped ending that optimists might be hoping for. 

Nonetheless, the theme and overall storyline were incredibly relevant, and not just because of the hijacked Teslas going rogue. It is easy to judge these characters in their response to the media blackout, but society’s entire social system is based on technology and connectivity, so the movie’s eventual civil war is not that far-fetched. Though the random deer reappearing felt a little jarring along with a character’s teeth falling out.

As an apocalyptic thriller with mysterious plotlines, inexplicable chaos and thoughtful themes, it is worth the watch. 

The production and filmmaking are art within themselves and the intriguing narrative is engaging. “Leave the World Behind” is overall entertaining with just enough reality to entice the audience to connect emotionally with the storyline and enough fear to make it extremely hard to look away.