Michael Tully’s would-be art house haunter Don’t Leave Home explores the parallels of art imitating life in his slow-burning, moody eurohorror throwback. While artfully crafted and beautifully shot, Don’t Leave Home takes too long to drag itself out of boring genre fare and ultimately squanders what little potential its bizarre final act attempts. In this one, an American artist’s obsession with a disturbing urban legend leads her to an investigation of the story’s origins at the crumbling estate of a reclusive painter in Ireland.
Don’t Leave Home opens quite strong—the first few minutes are shot in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio (think David Lowery’s Ghost Story)—giving it a very classic, buried-under-cobwebs look that resonates well with its opening shots of a beautiful Ireland countryside. Again, the film is wonderfully shot, so that early, classical aesthetic pairs well with the horrors that quickly unfold after a little girl mysteriously goes missing. The square aspect ratio only lasts for a few minutes, but so much depth and atmosphere was created in those early moments that everything from that point on pales in comparison—the rest of the film simply struggles to stand out.
Outside of those first handful of minutes, there’s almost nothing memorable about Don’t Leave Home’s first half. It’s so standard and boring that even now I’m struggling to find something worthwhile to write. Essentially, the film spends much of its time setting up a mystery that began many years ago when a little girl disappears (literally) after a priest paints a picture of her. Melanie, an artist with a particular fixation on this same myth, is flown to the priest’s estate in Ireland when he (and his creepy old lady caretaker) catch wind of her artwork that shines a light on the missing girl.
It gets pretty tedious from this point on as it’s mostly boring genre tropes that make the film feel like something we’ve seen hundreds of times before. Look, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just do something interesting with it. Instead, Don’t Leave Home is just more of the same, and it doesn’t bother reaching outside of the box until it’s far too late. Admittedly, the big reveal is initially quite good, but even that had problems of its own. I won’t spoil it here, but the film takes a hard turn that feels jarring and bizarre because it’s essentially the very opposite of everything that came before it—boring and standard suddenly becomes weird and refreshing.
The problem is that the film doesn’t have enough time to explore the single thing that makes it stand out because it wasted valuable time doing absolutely nothing—by this point it nonchalantly brushes over its own twist just to wrap up the story in a very quick and confusing way. It’s unfortunate too, because there was certainly some fascinating ideas going on here that didn’t get the attention they deserved. So in the end, had Don’t Leave Home focused on its more interesting narrative elements, we’d have a much different (and probably better) movie on our hands.