Leave the World Behind review: "A glossy but uneven dystopian drama"

Leave the World Behind
(Image: © Netflix)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Favouring family clashes over fearsome set pieces, this dystopian drama wins points for ambition, mood, and Julia Roberts’ prickly performance.

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Remember being trapped inside your house while a massive global event raged? In director Sam Esmail’s glossy but uneven dystopian drama, this time it’s a case not of pandemic but pandemonium.

The Sandford family’s idyllic weekend in a luxury rural rental is upended when strangers George Scott (an inscrutable Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (a sparky Myha’la Herrold) claim to be the property owners, who’ve been forced back home by a New York blackout. 

Esmail cranks up the suspense nimbly enough as TV, GPS, and the internet suddenly shut down after nationwide alerts, while grumpy mum Amanda (a nicely unsweetened Julia Roberts) and husband Clay (an amiable Ethan Hawke) clash with the Scotts.

Yet, as a series of mysterious crashes occur in the neighbourhood (planes nosedive into backyards, an oil tanker slams into a crowded beach), the film seems torn between exploring its Get Out-style racial tensions and mounting CGI-heavy background disasters. 

When the two strands collide, like the fleeing Sandfords’ confrontation with a fleet of high-speed driverless Teslas, the movie really starts cooking. Otherwise, it’s mostly on a low simmer, never quite achieving the apocalyptic domestic dread of, say, Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter (2011). 

Adapting from Rumaan Alam’s bestseller, writer/director Esmail (creator of TV’s tech-conspiracy drama Mr Robot) paints a scarily plausible picture of how fast chaos and conflict erupt when our computer-reliant systems suddenly start to fail. But his endlessly bickering characters ultimately stop us caring whether their world ends with a bang or with a whimper.

Leave the World Behind is available on Netflix on December 8. 

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Freelance Writer

Kate is a freelance film journalist and critic. Her bylines have appeared online and in print for GamesRadar, Total Film, the BFI, Sight & Sounds, and WithGuitars.com.