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Kevin Bacon on 'You Should Have Left' and masculinity in horror movies

<p>Although Theo is a caring father, he is a distrustful, passively threatening husband whose conflicting actions demonstrate a certain dichotomy to fatherhood.</p>

Although Theo is a caring father, he is a distrustful, passively threatening husband whose conflicting actions demonstrate a certain dichotomy to fatherhood.

On June 19, Blumhouse Productions and writer-director David Koepp released their latest psychological thriller, “You Should Have Left.” Based on German author Daniel Kehlmann’s 2017 novella of the same name, the film explores how duplicity and paranoia can destroy a family. The story revolves around an infamous banker, Theo Conroy (Kevin Bacon), his young actress wife Susanna (Amanda Seyfriend) and their six year-old bubbly and intuitive daughter Ella (Avery Essex). The family vacations in the Welsh countryside in a house that warps time, space and reality. In an attempt to escape the distorting house, Theo is forced to confront his dark past. As part of a virtual roundtable with Bacon, The Chronicle had the opportunity to interview the actor about his latest movie. 

“The first horror movie I did was “Friday the 13th,” which kicked off this genre of slasher movies. They’re pretty formulaic, I think, and not really thought of as being great character studies as much as [they are] just kids being killed,” Bacon said in the interview. “The horror movies that I really like are “Don’t Look Now” or “The Exorcist,” which were really more character-driven. One of the best recent examples is “Get Out.” Not only is it scary, but it has comedic elements and social commentary, and getting all of those into a movie is difficult. There’s more pressure on horror movies now to be a little bit more elevated and to have more to say about the world or about the human condition.”

In addition to the ominous title, “You Should Have Left” doesn’t care to avoid the many tropes of a typical horror movie. It features many, including a house devoid of photos and cell phone reception, a young child curious about death and a local grocer who vaguely forewarns the house’s unsuspecting victims. 

What makes this thriller stand out, however, is the modern, neutral-toned color palette that heightens the family’s fears. It doesn’t carry the macabre atmosphere of rustic "scary house" characteristic of “The Conjuring” or “American Horror Story: Murder House,” but its empty inhumanity makes it even more uninviting than its antiquated counterpart. This domestic asylum captures how horror is not always the work of the supernatural, but one’s own guilt. 

“I think with these kinds of movies, you can take a family that’s a perfect family unit, then you throw something at them: throw a monster, a zombie or some kind of supernatural element at them and force them to battle whatever this outside force is," Bacon said. "But that wasn’t really the movie we wanted to make — we wanted to make a movie where there were already underlying issues. Issues of guilt, jealousy, anxiety, doubt and self-doubt.” 

Throughout the movie, Theo is haunted by his daughter’s vulnerability and his wife’s infidelity. He checks Susanna’s phone for signs of an affair and wakes up shaking from nightmares of losing Ella. He tries to manage his anger and depression through a podcast and journaling, but only becomes more disconnected from his family. He phases in and out of his disturbing existence until nightmares and reality become intertwined. These nightmares reflect a deeper fear of losing the power that comes from protecting and controlling the women in his life. 

“One of the questions we’re raising is about the rich and powerful men of this world. Time and time again we see an abuse of that power, and that’s what I think my character is dealing with,” Bacon said. “He tells his daughter that “things came easily for him,” and when you think about what that really means, it raises questions about things coming “easily” for a certain section of the population and things being a lot harder for other people. And the fact that [Theo] is on his second marriage but chooses someone that is way too young for him indicates that he’s trying to hold on to some kind of relevance. He feels like he’s on his way out, and that’s frightening to him. He becomes paranoid and jealous and is haunted by these sins.”

Although Theo is a caring father, he is a distrustful, passively threatening husband whose conflicting actions demonstrate a certain dichotomy to fatherhood. There is a fine line between being protective and being possessive, and Bacon’s character struggles to walk that line. How does one provide the best for their child without setting the best example? Bacon consistently brings complexity to his characters, displaying how men may be better fathers than they are husbands. 

“It’s strangely ironic how the ways you treat the two most important women in your life doesn't necessarily line up,” Bacon said. “And I think that’s exactly what’s going on with [Theo]. He does love his wife, but the most honest, deepest relationship is with his daughter. [Ella] seems to have a kind of simple understanding of him that is unavoidable. Why do we function in that way? I don’t know. But that was something that was very important to us to delve into.” 

Yet, Theo fears this understanding is compromised when Ella learns he was publicly accused of murdering his ex-wife. Despite his daughter’s unconditional understanding, he cannot escape the guilt surrounding her death, the trial, and the public’s tainted image of him. Theo discovers the solution to his madness lies not in overcoming guilt, but in taking accountability for his actions. 

“There’s a lot of stuff about how a father's sins are revisited by the son and whether or not you can repent enough to be forgiven for your sins, and I think that comes up a lot for my character,” Bacon said. “As we find out through the course of the film, [Theo] does have a lot of dark things in his past and certainly some sins that he creates and perpetuates. And the question then becomes: Can there be redemption if you ask for forgiveness?”

“You Should Have Left” is now available to stream online

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