In Leave the World Behind, Rumaan Alam’s chilling novel about racial microaggression and the end of the world, a white couple from New York City rents a gorgeous house on Long Island for vacation and become suspicious when its Black owners show up at the door and strange events start to occur. Now, picture that scenario with Julia Roberts and soundtracked by LCD Soundsystem.
The trailer for the Netflix film adaptation of the book, directed by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail, highlights the accomplished cast—which includes Roberts, Mahershala Ali, and Ethan Hawke, the latter of whom wears a Bikini Kill t-shirt, in a costuming decision we must applaud.
While Alam’s book centered on the terror of the unknown, Esmail seems to make the apocalyptic threats very literal, with doomsday sequences involving boats running ashore and stalled cars. But in the biggest change from the book, the writer-director has shifted the age dynamics. Whereas in the text, the pair that shows up at the door is an older Black couple, here it’s Ali’s G.H. and his daughter Ruth, played by Myha’la of the television show Industry. (Ali’s character, who’s described in the novel as a Denzel Washington type, was at one point going to be played by Washington himself.)
Ali calmly explains “This is our house”—to which Roberts replies, with all the thinly veiled skepticism you would expect from a Brooklyn mom who fancies herself liberal but still holds a bevy of prejudices: “This is your house?”
Although there’s plenty of star power onscreen, there’s even more celebrity muscle behind the scenes with this one. The movie is being produced by the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions, which is also releasing biodrama Rustin via Netflix this year.
Whether Leave the World Behind is as successful a movie as it is a book will depend on Esmail’s ability to capture the many-pronged anxiety that Alam captures so seamlessly through his protagonist’s internal monologues. We’ll find out when it hits Netflix on December 8.