[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Leave the World Behind.]
In the new Netflix thriller Leave the World Behind, the world — or America, at least — is in the throes of a complete collapse, as seen from the grounded perspective of two families tangled up in the chaos. And writer/director Sam Esmail, adapting the book by Rumaan Alam, uses this scenario to not just consider the reality of how humans might respond to such a crisis, but also craft one of the darkest and funniest jokes a film has told all year.
Much of the film’s tension comes from anticipation, as well as the withholding of information: When a tidy nuclear family heads out for an off-season Long Island vacation retreat, at first the lack of cell reception, wifi, and television feels like a bit of a relief for parents Amanda (Julia Roberts) and Clay (Ethan Hawke). Even son Archie (Charlie Evans) isn’t too bothered.
The only family member truly upset over being disconnected from the world is preteen Rose (Farrah Mackenzie), who has been bingeing Friends on the Max app and has, to her horror, just one episode left to go before finishing the series. And she just has to find out what happened to Ross and Rachel, whose romantic fate remains up in the air.
Rose’s concern over ever getting to see the Friends finale seems quaint in comparison to the other issues facing her family: The biggest one initially being the arrival of two strangers (Mahershala Ali, Myha’la) on the family’s first night in the rental house, who claim that they’re the house’s owners, having fled a city-wide blackout.
Amanda and Clay have no way of verifying their story, and in a different film G.H. and his daughter Ruth would in fact be con artists working some sort of angle. That’s not the case here, though the tension around G.H. and Ruth’s presence lingers for a long time, until some level of trust builds up between these stranded strangers.