‘Leave’ Review: A Missed Opportunity of a Potentially Intriguing Supernatural Horror-thriller

leave review

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The latest Shudder import titled ‘Leave,’ which begins streaming from today onwards, is a Norwegian horror shot mainly in English, and the premise seems promising on paper: One night, a uniformed cop (Clarence Smith) found an abandoned crying baby (Oliver Haukeland Krossøy) in a cemetery wrapped in a cloth embellished with Satanic symbols. Fast-forward to two decades later, the baby has now grown up as a young adult named Hunter White (Alicia von Rittberg of TV’s ‘Becoming Elizabeth’), where the cop raised her like his own daughter.

Following the result of her DNA test, Hunter is determined to trace back her origins and to do so, she lies to her adopted dad that she’s going away to college in Georgetown but actually ends up flying to Bergen, Norway, to find her biological mother. Using the blanket and the silver necklace with an upside-down cross as clues, Hunter’s quest leads her to a vocalist of a metal-rock band named Cecilia (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), that may or may not be her biological mother.

But it turns out that her mom is Anna Norheim (Maria Alm Norell), and her dad is named Kristian (Morten Holst) – both fellow band members that were once lovers. However, an incident happened when Kristian ended up in jail after allegedly murdering Anna and burning down the church with her inside.

Hunter soon discovers about her mother’s family, including grandfather Torstein (Stig R. Amdam), Stian (Herman Tømmeraas), Lilian (Ragnhild Gudbrandsen), and Olav (Gerald Pettersen). They live somewhere far on a secluded island, and there’s something odd about the Norheim family. Hunter also encounters supernatural forces seemingly trying to scare her away, but she remains persistent in finding out the truth about her mother.

‘Leave’ is a slow burn, and I don’t mind such an approach in a horror movie as long as the payoff justifies all the build-up. Too bad this is hardly the case here as Alex Herron, making his feature-length directorial debut after spending the last decades helming music videos and TV movies, drags the story for the bulk of the movie’s nearly two-hour runtime.

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It drags and drags with a capital ‘D,’ where we are forced to endure disappointingly mundane scenes of Hunter doing her own amateur sleuthing as she tries to piece the puzzles together surrounding her mother’s death and the mysterious Norheim family. The movie relies heavily on Alicia von Rittberg to carry her role as Hunter, but her character’s journey strangely lacks suspense and dramatic tension, let alone a foreboding sense of dread.

It’s not like the movie doesn’t have the necessary horror elements like obligatory jump scares, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night moments, (Sjur Aarthun’s) moody cinematography, (Jamie Christopherson’s) ominous score, and grim locations. Herron also slapped in bizarre dream sequences that Hunter suffered from a nightmare of sorts every now and then, but what could have been an atmospheric visual aesthetic doesn’t induce a sense of macabre and fear.

But the movie is barely scary, and I never felt there’s a sense of danger or high-stakes scenarios, even though Hunter is pretty much alone in her quest to uncover the truth. And given that the movie takes place mainly in Norway, I was expecting a horror film that is uniquely Norwegian style since the director is a native himself. Not to mention ‘Leave’ happens to be co-produced by Tommy Wirkola, a fellow Norwegian best known for his cult classics, including ‘Dead Snow’ and ‘Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.’

And yet, none of these matter since Herron shaped his movie like one of those garden-variety Hollywood-style horror films related to all things satanic, supernatural, and Christianity straight out of the assembly line. Thomas Moldestad’s screenplay is slapdash, and all the slack connect-the-dots moments could only muster a third-act finale that is best described as ‘anticlimactic.’ I was expecting something shocking or surprising that I didn’t see it coming, but once the truth reveals, what we have here is nothing but a limp payoff.

Back to the acting part, I can see Alicia von Rittberg is trying her best to make her role of an outsider making sense of everything in a foreign country worthwhile. But there’s only so much an actor could do when the lackluster character arc and the story hardly give her ample room to evolve. The rest of the cast is just as forgettable, with the exception of Herman Tømmeraas’ supporting turn as the creepy Stian and Stig R. Amdam’s authoritarian role of the family patriarch.

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Frankly, ‘Leave’ has a lot of potential to turn this into an unsettling supernatural horror-thriller. If only Alex Herron and screenwriter Thomas Moldestad could give us something we can emotionally invest in Alicia von Rittberg’s Hunter’s plight, the mystery and horror parts keeping us engaged until the end.

SCORE: 4/10

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