December is the month we take stock. It’s the time when we gather with our loved ones, reflect on the year that’s past, and look forward to the year to come. Because of that, it makes it the perfect time to watch movies about the end of the world. Last year, Netflix took advantage of this with Don’t Look Up, the apocalyptic satire from Adam McKay that secured four Oscar noms including Best Picture. (See also: Bird Box and White Noise.)
This year, Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail released his take on the “family apocalypse drama” that’s tense, mysterious, and above all very, very weird. Here’s why you should check it out now it’s streaming on Netflix.
Leave the World Behind, based on the novel by Rumaam Alam, centers around the Sandford family, who go on a vacation to Long Island after mother Amanda (Julia Roberts) wakes up and realizes how much she hates people. On the way there, they lose cell service, but chalk it up to the remote location. But that’s just the first strange occurrence of many: at the beach, an oil tanker runs aground, herds of deer run wild, and all TV channels cut out.
That night, the Sandford clan are met by two strangers in the night: G.H. Scott (Mahershala Ali), the owner of the house the family is renting, and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la.) The two instantly clash with Amanda and her husband Clay (Ethan Hawke,) but with the world falling apart around them, they are forced to hunker down together.
Much like its spiritual predecessor Don’t Look Up, Leave the World Behind isn’t afraid to take on tough subjects, even if it’s not razor-sharp satire. Classism is a major player — while G.H. may work in finance and be on the board of a symphony, the Sandfords live in Park Slope. Amanda works in advertising, Clay is a professor. The classism involved is simply between the upper-class and the upper-upper-class. Racism is another player at work. Amanda is immediately suspicious of the Scotts, and there are many conversations about subconscious bias, all which lead to a xenophobic claim about why the world is ending.
But by far the most obvious satire comes in the form of the Sandford children, Archie (Charlie Evans) and Rose (Farrah McKenzie). The end of the world isn’t that much of an issue for them, but the lack of wi-fi absolutely is, especially for Rose, who lost service just as she was about to watch the series finale of Friends. (Weirdly, she’s supposed to be streaming-obsessed, but only references shows streaming on Max — a strange choice for a Netflix movie.)
In one scene, Archie questions his sister as to why she’s so upset about not seeing an episode of TV, and she simply says, “They make me happy.” That line sets up the film’s shocking ending, an ending that feels surprising and cynical at first, but when viewed through the lens of a movie payrolled by Netflix, it only rings hollow and surface-level. “Netflix satire on Netflix” has already been done — and done far better — in Black Mirror Season 6.
But all these choices just make Leave the World Behind even more of an interesting watch. Many apocalypse movies can be predictable, where the characters are in denial and then slowly come to terms with what’s happening. In this movie, that is not a linear path. Every choice comes at you out of nowhere: terrifying screeches, kamikaze Teslas, tooth-based body horror, a dance scene set to Next’s “Too Close,” an overused anecdote from The West Wing, and a Kevin Bacon cameo.
While we do eventually find out what happened to the outside world, it’s very much an afterthought. No matter how prepared we may be, the end of the world (just like the end of the year) is always going to be messy and chaotic. And that’s just what this movie shows.