What’s the scariest thing you can include in a horror film? Why the unknown and the unfamiliar, of course. What’s more unknown and unfamiliar than the darkest musical art form, Black Metal? Well, really nothing. That is as scary as music gets.
Don’t be fooled. While Black Metal is rife with demons, terror, torture, and corpse paint, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely scary in and of itself.
That’s what Nowegian director Alex Herron attempted to do. Concoct a horror film with a very light (read: nearly non-existent) Black Metal subtext. The film, Leave, follows a fairly interesting story of a young woman, Hunter (Alicia von Rittberg), as she attempts to piece together why she was left in a cemetery decades ago. Swaddled in a Black Metal tapestry with an upside down cross dangling from her infant neck are all the clues Hunter is left with.
Hunter, armed with the internet and archival obsessed Black Metal fans, decides to set out and determine which demonic band was touring in her home town those many years ago. She quickly realizes that it was no run of the mill Black Metal band that abandoned her as a newborn. This particular band hails from the land of Emperor, Darkthrone, and Mayhem. REAL NORWEGIAN BLACK METAL. The scariest of the scary.
As Hunter sets out for Norway to find her headbanging parents, she’s forced to contend with the fact that the story that’s been hidden from her may have a darker underpinning, and she encounters a dark and looming spirit that greets her upon her arrival. The facts, witnesses, and chronology of her Black Metal origins all neatly unfold for Hunter. But it’s all a little too convenient and a little too perfect — and not very metal.
She eventually discovers the remote community where her grandfather, aunt, uncle, and cousin live. He Norwegian relatives are also rather perfect. Hunter begins to get answers about her mother, her apparent death at the hands of her Black Metal companion, and, most importantly, why her mother would give up a perfect baby girl in the middle of the U.S.
The layers of the Black Metal onion slowly start to get peeled back and Hunter begins to get a better understanding of the perfect nature of their bucolic Norwegian stronghold. Confronted head-on by the truth behind her mother’s death, Hunter realizes that the problem is not Black Metal (of course it’s not), but — gasp — Christianity.
The last act of the film looks and feels as though it’s been through the Hollywood focus group machine. The twist is unbelievable, unwarranted, and un-earned. To call it silly would be a compliment. Maybe the safest element of all is the incredible lack of Black Metal. The entire demonic sub-sub-genre is barely used or mentioned, coupled with the fact that the film is largely devoid of BLACK METAL music.
Leave is a film that looks great and has really decent performances, but at the end of the day it’s not scary in the least. Black Metal is scary. Leave isn’t.
Leave had its U.S. premier in March 2023 and is streaming on Shudder.