Don’t Breathe

August 24th, 2016




In twenty years from now, I can see Don’t Breathe being viewed as a classic thriller. It grabs your attention on the premise alone: a group of friends decide to rob the house of a blind veteran, only to find out they chose the wrong guy to mess with. Director Fede Alvarez’s sophomore effort (Evil Dead re-make) is a well constructed map of suspense, where the characters senses come into play, and the prospects of death are capable in every step they take. In what has already been a strong year for horror and thriller films, Don’t Breathe will be memorable for some time to come.

The premise may be simple, but the stakes are entirely complex. Rocky (Jane Levy) dreams of getting away from her trailer park mother, the abandon houses of Detroit, and taking her little sister away to California. Along with two co-burglar friends- a neck tattoo sporting, scumbag of a boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) and the hopeless romantic Alex (Goosebumps‘ Dylan Minnette), who would break into any home and steal just to be close to her. The trio look for one more score, where a tip from a fellow criminal reveals that this house inhabited by the blind man (Stephen Lang), made $300,000 on a settlement for the death of his daughter. Seems like an easy in-and-out job, that is till they get inside, and find out it’s not so simple to escape.

What works so strongly is the creation of tension. Alvarez co-wrote the script with Rodo Sayagues, laying out the architecture of the house in a manner that feels entirely lived in, while they establish the characters with little detail. Even as the visuals feel entirely shrouded in darkness, cinematographer Pedro Luque follows the floor, to a piece of glass broken on the floor, to the dirt on the shoes, to the placement of a hammer on a wall, almost as if to let us know, that yes, these items will come into play somehow, someway. When they do come into play, they deliver with a bang.

There are strong performances from all involved. Stephen Lang as the blind man is truly frightening. Not just because of his actions, but because his character is an onion of emotional depth. There is empathy for his situation, a man who served his country, losing his eyesight and his daughter, but as our characters inspect deeper into the home, what is revealed is truly shocking. As for Jane Levy, the actress is run through the gamut of horror lead mistreatment. She must sneak around, constantly fearful of her choices, in a matter of fight and flight, which will leave her bruised and bloodied.

Ultimately, Rocky and Alex will spin in circles, avoiding the blind man, along with his aggressive guard dog, trying to find an escape route. And what makes Don’t Breathe so unique, is how the three main characters start out as hardcore criminals, only for a twist of fate to distort the audiences view. Alvarez has drawn from past thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock or David Fincher’s Panic Room, taking established character’s and giving them everything to gain and everything to lose. The third act has some questionable actions from the main character, which some will accept, while others may loathe. I was indifferent. When the blind man shuts out the lights exclaiming, “now you see what I see”, the loss of light is a suffocating moment, displaying a realistic take on human fears that we all can relate to. You won’t see any lazy jump scares in this movie.

Don’t Breathe is an original, horror masterpiece. I completely respected Alvarez as a director after this. It was rumored he turned down interviews with the likes of Marvel and the possibility of a Fast & Furious film to stick with his own creation. It pays off big time. Don’t Breathe is a reminder that there are still good movies to be made out there. These are the kind of experiences that leave us gasping for air.

3 ½ Stars

Written by: Leo Brady

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