‘Leave the World Behind,’ Starring Julia Roberts and Mahershala Ali, to Open AFI Fest

The American Film Institute’s AFI Fest 2023 is set to open with director Sam Esmail’s dystopian drama “Leave the World Behind.” The premiere will take place in Hollywood on October 25, with the 37th edition of the festival running through October 29.

Based on Rumaan Alam’s 2020 novel about an Airbnb vacation turned apocalyptic for two families, the film is written and directed by “Mr. Robot” creator Esmail, an alum of the AFI Conservatory. Oscar winners Julia Roberts and Mahershala Ali, plus Ethan Hawke and HBO “Industry” breakout Myha’la Herrold star in the film releasing later from Netflix on December 8.

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Per the official synopsis, Amanda (Julia Roberts) and her husband Clay (Ethan Hawke), rent a luxurious home for the weekend with their kids, Archie (Charlie Evans) and Rose (Farrah Mackenzie). Their vacation is soon upended when two strangers — G.H. (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la) — arrive in the night, bearing news of a mysterious cyberattack and seeking refuge in the house they claim is theirs. The two families reckon with a looming disaster that grows more terrifying by the minute, forcing everyone to come to terms with their places in a collapsing world.

The novel was published in October 2020, smack dab in the pandemic, and had eerie implications for a disastrous future. This is Esmail’s first feature since the 2014 cosmic rom-com “Comet,” as he’s since worked in TV as an executive producer, from “Gaslit” to “Angelyne” and “The Resort.”

In a quote provided in a press release announcing the “Leave the World Behind” premiere, AFI’s CEO and president Bob Gazzale said, “Sam Esmail is a commanding voice in the new generation of cinematic storytellers, and we are proud to present the World Premiere of his new film at AFI FEST. That he is a graduate of the AFI Conservatory only adds to the pride we feel in celebrating this accomplishment – which is both powerful and profound.”

More AFI Fest titles will be announced soon.

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