Movie Review: Leave the World Behind Struggles to Translate Book’s Emotional Apocalypse


The year 2020 witnessed the arrival of Rumaan Alam’s novel, Leave the World Behind, a gripping tale involving two New York families thrown together during a mysterious global crisis. While the book explored an emotional apocalypse more than a sci-fi thriller, Sam Esmail’s film adaptation takes a different approach, aiming for a heightened apocalyptic thriller experience.

Plot Synopsis

Esmail’s adaptation centers on Amanda and Clay, a well-off Brooklyn couple on a vacation with their kids when strange occurrences disrupt their peaceful retreat. A blackout in the city brings George and Ruth, the property’s owners, to seek refuge with them. The film emphasizes an impending apocalypse through unsettling events, like a tanker running aground and planes falling from the sky, amplifying the tension within the group.

Character Portrayal

Regrettably, the film fails to delve into its characters, rendering them as hollow representations rather than relatable individuals. Unlike Alam’s novel, which highlighted the complexities of their interactions, Esmail’s film separates them, focusing on their individual experiences during the crisis. However, this isolation doesn’t foster a connection with the characters, leaving them feeling two-dimensional.

Lack of Emotional Impact

Despite attempts at character bonding later in the film, the emotional resonance remains lacking. The disjointed storytelling and unconvincing character development detract from the intended horror of the unfolding apocalypse. Even the catastrophic events depicted fail to evoke genuine fear or interest due to the film’s lack of commitment to explaining the unfolding chaos.

Unfulfilled Potential

The movie seems to present a collection of intriguing ideas without a cohesive narrative thread. Esmail’s utilization of ambiguity as a storytelling tool leaves the audience disconnected from the characters’ experiences. While some visually striking sequences exist, like the chaos of driverless Teslas, these moments feel disjointed from the overarching emotional core of the story.

Comparative Analysis

Drawing comparisons to other adaptations of apocalyptic novels, like M. Night Shyamalan’s A Knock at the Cabin, reveals the disparity in handling similar themes. Shyamalan’s attention to detail and nuanced storytelling succeeded in creating a compelling and unsettling cinematic experience. In contrast, Leave the World Behind struggles to translate the novel’s intricate character dynamics onto the screen.

Inadequate Adaptation

Esmail’s attempt to capture the essence of Alam’s detailed character portrayals falls short. The film’s characters lack depth and their actions feel disconnected from their established personas in the book. The talented cast is hindered by a clunky script, failing to breathe life into these poorly developed roles.


In its pursuit of a grand apocalyptic vision, Leave the World Behind loses sight of the intricate emotional landscape depicted in the novel. While the book meticulously delved into the minutiae of its characters’ lives, the film adaptation struggles to capture that depth. Ultimately, the movie fails to evoke the same level of empathy or engagement, leaving viewers disconnected from the characters’ plight.

Final Thoughts

Despite the adaptation’s aspirations, Esmail’s film lacks the intimate exploration of characters’ inner worlds present in Alam’s novel. The movie’s detachment from the emotional core, combined with its inability to make the characters relatable, results in a disappointing translation from book to screen.

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