God works hard, but Kevin Bacon works harder. Netflix’s new apocalyptic thriller Leave the World Behind is a dark take on the genre as it follows two families stuck in the same house during a catastrophic attack on the United States. Despite being strangers, the families work to protect each other amid the growing terror. The movie eventually settles into a bleak optimism — the two families might not survive, but at least we know they’re good enough people — until Bacon appears in an unhinged role that changes the tone of the entire movie.
Based on a novel by Rumaan Alam and directed by Sam Esmail, the thriller stars Julia Roberts as Amanda Sandford, Ethan Hawke as Clay Sandford, Mahershala Ali as G.H. Scott, Myha’la Herrold as Ruth Scott, Farrah Mackenzie as Rose Sandford, and Charlie Evans as Archie Sandford.
In the movie, the Sandfords have rented the Scotts’ luxurious home for a brief vacation out of New York City. After a strange outing and power outage, Ruth and G.H. return to the house with claims that there has been an attack and they need to seek refuge. Clay immediately warms up to the two, but Ruth harbors a nasty attitude.
Towards the final act, Clay and Ruth’s son Archie falls ill, and begins coughing up blood and losing his teeth. When his condition worsens, G.H. claims that he knows someone who might be able to help them. What the Sandfords don’t know is that he’s referring to Danny (Bacon), a crazed conspiracy theorist who Ruth saw stockpiling emergency goods upon her arrival to town.
G.H. brings Clay and Archie to Danny, despite his daughter’s protests, but Danny refuses to sing Kumbaya with the others. With Archie left in the car, Clay and G.H. move to make their case to Danny, but the other man advises them to get off his porch and stand by their car.
“What can I do for you?” Danny says as he steps outside while holding a gun.
“I’m just checking on you,” G.H responds. “Seeing if you’re here, if you’re okay… if you’ve heard anything about what’s going on.”
“We came out here because my son needs help, he’s vomiting,” Clay offers.
After G.H. reveals that Archie is losing his teeth, Danny claims that his sickness is likely linked to the painful supersonic noise that keeps emanating through the air.
The two ask Danny if he has medicine that can help Archie, with G.H. stating that he is aware of how prepared Danny for these situations. Danny stands his ground, and tells the two that his emergency supplies are to protect his own loved ones.
Danny’s coldheartedness and lack of empathy is a stark detour from what has been previously depicted in the movie as even during Ruth’s harshest moments towards the Scotts, she pulled back before acting inhumane, and others — like Clay — have expressed remorse after making calls that put the lives of others in danger.
Danny, on the other hand, is unwavering. He cocks his gun and threatens to harm the two unarmed men as Clay offers him $1000 while begging him to help his son. “Haven’t you been picking up on what’s going out there, George?” Danny says to G.H. “We’ve all been deserted.” G.H. moves closer, “We’re not going anywhere until you give us what we need.”
The conspiracist lifts his gun to aim it at G.H., as G.H. pulls out his own gun. Clay begins to panic, “What the fuck is going on right now?” The father begs them to put the guns down, “We’ll find a way to a hospital!” The standoff continues and Clay stands in front of G.H. and pleads his case to Danny. “I can barely do anything without my cellphone and my GPS, I am a useless man. But my son is sick and my daughter is missing, and I don’t know what to do, but you are a very prepared man.”
“Fuck yeah, I am,” Danny responds.
The scene is deliciously dark and carries high stakes. At this point, all three characters are in primal defense mode, and what could easily be reduced to a dick-measuring contest, turns out to be a pivotal turning point in the movie.
After the situation is resolved, G.H. and Clay enter the car and give Archie the medicine. G.H. turns to Clay and ominously says, “Before we go, I need to know that you’re on the level with me.” He continues to disclose information about a three-stage plot designed to topple a country’s government from within, which he heard from a client at work. He describes the final stage as a civil war, drawing parallels to their past experiences, particularly their encounter with Danny. “Whoever started this wants us to finish it,” he says.
With the showdown between Danny and G.H. being Leave the World Behind‘s most explicit display of interpersonal physical violence, it paints a clear picture of what’s to come for the two families, despite the movie’s ambiguous ending.
Leave the World Behind is currently streaming on Netflix.