‘Leave’ (2023) Ending, Explained: Is Anna Dead Or Alive? How Does Hunter Rescue Her Mother?

After royally bungling up what they set out to precipitate with ‘Spoonful Of Sugar,’ you would think that Shudder would be bending over backward to make a striking horror that might make them win back the place they’ve lost. Yet sitting through “Leave,” all I could disgruntledly think was that I wouldn’t be putting my money on at least the next few Shudder horror flicks unless the director commanded faith. I’m having a hard time holding the instances of Alicia von Rittberg understating the terror that needed to be communicated against the actress herself, and I’m more compelled to wonder if the real culprit wasn’t the misdirected endeavor of creating an atmospheric horror. Should I have pinned my hopes on the chancy, changing tides when the underwhelming start warned me against keeping a kernel of hope alive? 

Spoilers Ahead


Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘Leave’?

It’s been a few months since Hunter’s adoptive mother passed. It’s not that Hunter hasn’t always known that her parents aren’t her birth parents, but where she originally came from has always been kept away from her knowledge. That was until her mother let her in on the eerie circumstances of her father finding her. You see, Hunter’s wasn’t adopted through the protocols of an agency. She was found by her father, who was a cop answering a 911 call about a baby in a cemetery. And if coming across an infant in a graveyard didn’t attain the creepy quotient, the baby being wrapped in a cloth with demonic symbols and her neck being adorned with a satanic cross necklace certainly made her father believe that Hunter should have been kept in the dark about it. It isn’t that Hunter doesn’t count her blessings to have been brought up by the kindest people she has ever known. But there’s something about the call of someone’s roots that eats away at a soul and urges them to look beneath the surface of everything they know. It is a call that Hunter finds herself answering when she lies to her father about going off to college in Georgetown and takes a flight to Norway instead. She is given a warning sign to turn back the second she sets foot on the airport grounds when a dark figure creeps up on her from behind. 


How Does Hunter Find Out Who Her Parents Are?

I was almost ready to call forth hellfire to rain over the film when the woman that Hunter believes to be her mother turns out to be the singer of a Norwegian black metal band. Just as I was about to lash out with an “isn’t it getting too darn old to associate theories of satanism with black metal?” before the narrative took a turn and made me sit back down. Hunter’s time in the Norwegian hotel would have been fine if she wasn’t chased by the visions of a smoldering corridor and a shadowy apparition making its way closer to her. She tracks down Cecilia just as she was done playing a set at a local bar and bolts after nicking the bottle of beer Cecilia was sipping on. The acute panic of Hunter as she is being chased by Cecilia’s friend through the gloomy streets of a strange country is muffled by the hopeless attempt at making the ordeal speak for itself. And did I mention that I have yet to come across another score that is as unbefitting to the eeriness of the narrative as that of this movie?

In any case, let me get back to Hunter’s predicament. On her way out to get the DNA sample that she has collected from Cecilia’s beer bottle tested, Hunter is jumped by the man who was following her the night before. It is after she hits the man over the head that she thinks to speak up and tell him that she may be Cecilia’s daughter. Sitting down with Cecilia at the bar, Hunter communicates her desire to find out if she is her mother. Now here’s why Hunter is dead set on her idea that Cecilia is her mother. The band that Cecilia plays for was touring the town where Hunter was found. Assuming that the symbols on the cloth she was wrapped in belonged to the band, Hunter came to the conclusion that the lead singer of the band had a baby and dropped it off at the cemetery. Because why not? Metalheads worship satan and drink infant blood on a weekly basis, right? Jeez! Cecilia has never been able to conceive a child so there’s not a ghost of a chance that Hunter is her daughter. What there is a chance of, and Cecilia’s friend comes to realize it pretty quickly, is that Hunter is the daughter of Anna and Kristian, two associates of the band who had the baby on the tour. 


What Does Hunter Learn About Anna And Kristian?

Breaking the stereotype that metal singers are unfriendly, Cecilia is more than happy to help out Hunter. Through her, Hunter comes to know that Anna and Kristian had a stormy relationship. Kristian fixated on his belief that Anna had killed their baby after giving birth and his assumption had stemmed from the fact that Anna didn’t want to have the baby in the first place. To avenge the death of his child, erratic Kristian dragged Anna to a chapel and burnt her alive. He has been confined to his room in a local mental health facility ever since he was convicted of the heinous crime and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. When asked if there’s any way for Hunter to get to know her mother’s side of the story, Cecilia mentions a diary that Anna always kept close.

Cecilia believes that if the diary still exists, it would be in the possession of Anna’s conservative Christian family. Now there’s something that is actually scary! Kristian is nothing like Hunter had pictured in her mind when she visits him in the guise of a journalism student researching Norwegian black metal. He is elated to get a visitor who is interested in something other than his grisly past until he sees the necklace that Hunter is wearing and flips out. What Hunter later comes to find out about the necklace that she previously thought to be a satanic cult symbol somewhat comforts her. Cecilia recognizes the inverted cross to be a wolf cross, a symbol originating from Norse mythology that has been a topic of interest in her country. The search for Anna’s diary leads her to make the bold choice of paying Anna’s family a visit. What started as a drop-in turns into a stay in the guest room when Anna’s aunt turns out to be surprisingly sweet and affectionate toward her newfound niece. 


How Does Hunter Find The Diary?

Hunter’s first night’s sleep in her mother’s home is perturbed by the presence of a dark apparition who goes a step further than standing by the side of her bed and gets into bed with her. The next morning, Hunter is welcomed into the family by her grandfather Torstein. The way they readily accept a stranger’s words and let her move into their home; Anna’s family gives off a peculiar vibe that doesn’t inspire a lot of trust. Torstein gives his newfound granddaughter a tour of his home and even allows her to go through Anna’s old room. At dinner which starts off with a long-drawn prayer that Anna’s cousin Stian isn’t showing a lot of interest in, Hunter gets a sniff of what lies beneath the surface of the pleasant impression the family is trying to make. When Stian’s mother mourns the loss of her daughter, she carefully keeps away from divulging what really happened to her.

Addressing Hunter’s curiosity about Anna’s diary, Torstein denies the very existence of it before demanding that she shows the courtesy of not prodding at what he wishes to forget. On her way back, Hunter is stopped by Stian, the black sheep of the family who offers to give her a ride to Torstein’s house and even tells her that she might be able to find the diary in the attic. Wearing a disturbing grin on his face, Stian talks of the women of the Norheim family, all of whom had had brushes with mental illness and devastating fate. By the time Hunter purloins the diary from the attic, Torstein’s car has pulled up in the driveway. Almost as though warning Hunter of the can of worms she shouldn’t try to open, the ethereal apparition shows up once again, this time so close that Hunter can practically see the melted flesh on the petrifying figure. Before she can run off, Hunter is caught by Torstein, who grabs hold of the diary and banishes his granddaughter from the house. 


Why Does Hunter Go Back To Anna’s House?

Stian is suspiciously helpful to the new cousin he has come to know. Hunter can’t let the bad energy she feels around him stand in the way of getting another access to the diary when he offers to help her out. In the absence of Torstein, the two once again break into the house. Hunter quickly learns of Stian’s ulterior intention when she sees him pocketing some petty cash. The threat of being stabbed with a knife does make Stian put the money back in its place, but as Hunter is busy clicking pictures of the diary, he overpowers her and viciously attempts to sexually assault her. Overwhelmed Hunter clobbers Stian with a heavy cast iron skillet and makes him bleed out on the floor. She swiftly bags the diary drenched in his blood and bolts. The first shrewd stop she makes in her panicked state of mind is at Cecilia’s. To calm the jittery girl, Cecilia calls in a favor and finds out that Stian is alive. When she is handed the diary to translate it into English, Cecilia comes to realize that it didn’t belong to Anna. There are mentions of Anna in the diary by someone who used to live with her.

After recovering from the disappointment brought forth by the diary, Hunter goes back to the mental health facility and decides to come clean about her real identity to her father. Encouraged by the strength it took for her to be honest, Kristian looks back at Anna’s death and claims that he was framed for the crime he didn’t commit. Hunter also finds out that her real name was Liv and that she was named after Anna’s cousin, who she has heard of from Anna’s family. When she asks why Anna didn’t want her, Kristian says that it was because she was a girl. It isn’t the connotations of misogyny that Hunter’s mind goes to. Instead, she is made to reminisce about what she had heard from Stian. Why do the Norheim women invariably fall prey to dreadful fate? And could that be why Anna had left her behind? Consumed by her obsession with finding out why her mother had abandoned her, Hunter dismisses Kristian’s warnings against going back to the house he believes is evil. 


‘Leave’ Ending Explained – Is Anna Alive? How Does Hunter Rescue Her Mother?

Something shifts in Hunter the moment she lays eyes on the old portrait of a woman on the wall of Torstein’s house. From the first time the apparition of a burned woman began haunting Hunter, she must’ve felt that harming her wasn’t the spirit’s intention. Hunter was either led away from danger by her or the ghostly figure attempted to communicate that something very wrong was being masked by the otherwise polite family. When she finds a trapdoor that holds the secrets the Norheim family has been carefully keeping away from public eyes, Hunter enters the gloomy lobby to find a soundproofed dungeon and a woman shackled to the bed. Hunter takes about a second to recognize the woman, now old, to be Anna, her birthmother who everyone out in the world believes is dead.

Anna is over the moon to see her little Liv all grown up. But the warmth of the mother and daughter meeting for the first time is soon seen turning into panic as Anna urges her to run away lest the danger that lurks within the walls of the Norheim house catches up to her. But before Hunter can run, Torstein walks in. Anna and Hunter jump Torstein and Hunter renders him unconscious by choking him with all the strength she can conjure up. It is when Torstein’s son hits Hunter and makes her keel over that the two freaks tie her to a chair and proceed to “purify” her with holy fire. Religious psychosis has been a Norheim legacy passed down from the acutely God-fearing patriarchs of the family. The women in the family have been victims of the iron grip of the men and the draconian control they have over their lives.

The first rebel brave enough to dream up a life away from the terror was Anna’s cousin, Liv. It was the “irredeemable” Liv who Torstein and his son murdered in the chapel and told everyone that she was a runaway. They deemed Anna to be someone who could be “saved” if only she could be taken away from the “demonic” world of black metal and the temptations of the sinful world outside. Kristian has broken out of the mental health facility to come to the rescue of his daughter. Who he could never imagine meeting in the dungeon was the love of his life who he thought was dead. Increasing their strength in numbers, Kristian kills Torstein’s son. But before he can eliminate Torstein, Kristian is stabbed in his side and left to die.

Making the best of Torstein’s absence from the room, Hunter and Anna make a run for it. They struggle to make their way through the foggy graveyard and even though Anna tries, her legs give out from the lack of movement for all these years. Torstein catches up to Hunter and proceeds to drag her back to the house. A moment of distraction stops Torstein and he sees the spirit of Liv right before his eyes. Taking advantage of his baffled state, Hunter bashes his head with a log and leaves him for dead. Not only has Hunter done the unthinkable and found her grim roots, but she has rescued her mother from a life of abuse and rotting away in the dingy confinement of the Norheim house. She has also put an end to the parochial family’s tradition of torturing women in the name of the Almighty. 


“Leave” is a 2022 mystery thriller film directed by Alex Herron.

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Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra nerds out about baking whenever she’s not busy looking for new additions to the horror genre. Nothing makes her happier than finding a long-running show with characters that embrace her as their own. Writing has become the perfect mode of communicating all that she feels for the loving world of motion pictures.
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