Netflix debuts Leave the World Behind on Dec. 8.
Based on the best-selling 2020 novel of the same name by Rumaan Alam, this intriguing new feature presents an all-star cast including Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke, Kevin Bacon, Charlie Evans, Farrah Mackenzie, and Myha’la Herrold, among others.
Written and directed by Sam Esmail, the movie plays out an as an apocalyptic thriller in which two families fight for survival amid an inexplicable blackout where we are told there is “no going back to normal”.
The trailer below looks suitably foreboding. However without a glimpse of an obvious foil or villain (either natural or supernatural) Netflix’s trailer it’s not giving away too much, and it’s not easy to understand exactly what is happening to the characters on screen during a series of tense moments.
Alam’s novel might offer up some better clues. The book is more than just a thriller, with the apocalyptic set-up used as a means of taking a deeper dive into the complexities of parenthood, race and class.
For instance, in. the book Amanda (played by Roberts in the film) and her husband Clay (Hawke), rent a luxurious Air BnB style home for the weekend with their kids but discover their idyllic vacation upended by two strangers — G.H. (Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la) — who arrive in the night, bearing news of a mysterious cyberattack.
G.H. and Ruth are met with with suspicion from the white suburban couple, and are reluctant to believe the property they are renting is actually owned by the newcomers.
As the novel progresses, we see that the outcome of moral choices are dictated by how the characters view those in need based on the color of their skin, their class, race, and other factors. Additionally, the fragility of social structures, and of civilisation as a whole is brought into question as the characters find themselves individually to be truly helpless for the first time in their lives.
Does this mean the villain is… classism? Racism? Society? We can’t say for sure, and it certainly looks as if the film version has gone above and beyond to add some additional scary moments that don’t appear in the text of the novel. What we do know is that Alam’s well-received but ultimately ambiguous novel was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Awards, listed as one of Barack Obama’s Summer Favorites and named A Best Book of the Year from The Washington Post, NPR, Time, Esquire, and Elle among others. Alam himself serves as executive producer of the film alongside Barack and Michelle Obama, Tonia Davis, Daniel M. Stillman and Nick Krishnamurthy. Promising to explore how our closest bonds are reshaped, and unexpected new ones are forged in moments of crisis, Leave the World Behind may not be the Halloween jump-scare fest you were expecting, but it may just give its audience something else to consider.
Leave the World Behind is from writer and director Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot), produced by Esmail Corp, Red Om Films, and executive produced by Higher Ground Productions.
It drops December 8 on Netflix.
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