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‘You Should Have Left’ should please horror fans

Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried star in the little gem about a vacation house with curiosities around every corner.

Theo (Kevin Bacon), a wealthy banker, stays in Wales with his daughter (Avery Essex) and wife in “You Should Have Left.”
Universal Pictures

If only this couple with the young child had seen “The Shining,” the moment they came upon the isolated and ominous-looking structure tucked far away from civilization, they would have turned the Range Rover around and headed straight for the airport. Ah, but then “You Should Have Left” would have been called, “We Left Immediately,” and it would be a 90-second video and not an effectively chilling little horror gem from writer-director David Koepp, who reunites with the ageless Kevin Bacon some 21 years after Koepp penned the Chicago-set “Stir of Echoes.”

Although Bacon looks fantastic at 61, the age difference between his character of Theo and Theo’s actress wife Susanna (34-year-old Amanda Seyfried) is a point of contention and conversation. When Theo visits Susannah on a movie set, the P.A. guesses, “You’re her dad?” And when the luminous Susanna emerges from the home swimming pool and kisses her husband, she says, “Old man — sunblock.”

Not that the age differential is the most scandalous element to their marriage, which has produced a precocious and adorable 6-year-old daughter named Ella (Avery Essex). Theo, a wealthy banker, was married before — and when his wife drowned in the bathtub, Theo was charged with killing her. Even though he was acquitted, a lot of people think he literally got away with murder. Apparently folks are still buzzing about the case years later, because out of the blue one day Ella asks her mom, “Why do people hate Daddy so much?”

After a prelude in which both Theo and little Ella are haunted by horrific nightmares, the family takes leave of the States for a getaway vacation in Wales. The house they’ve chosen online is an imposing, brick-walled structure the size of a small hotel. What’s more, it has labyrinthine, narrow corridors and multiple levels, as if Frank Lloyd Wright had teamed up with the architect of the Overlook Hotel and the designer of a carnival house of mirrors.

Almost immediately after the family arrives, weird things begin to happen — and continue to happen. Ella sees shadows where there should be no shadows. There’s only one photo in the entire mansion: a creepy snapshot of an unknown person, affixed to the wall in the laundry room. Theo goes about the house, turning off the lights for the night, and somehow loses track of five hours. When Theo hears a strange sound and looks away from the mirror, his mirror image keeps staring at him. One room in the house is five feet longer on the inside than it is on the outside, wrap your head around that one!

Also, someone has written in Theo’s journal: YOU SHOULD LEAVE and later, YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT.

Bacon and Seyfried are terrific together as a couple who love each other and adore their daughter, but are so caught up in their respective, selfish worlds, you often can cut the tension with a knife. The cinematography, editing, lighting and production design all feed into the increasingly creepy and chilling atmosphere inside that strange house, which seems to have a mysterious and ghostly caretaker lurking about and has a way of swallowing up its occupants. With echoes of “What Lies Beneath” and “The Others” and the aforementioned “The Shining” informing the plot, “You Should Have Left” is by no means groundbreaking or wholly original — but it produces more than enough jumps and jolts to have you jumping off the couch.