MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Don’t Breathe’ will leave you breathless with genuine tension and scares
I can’t help but feel that we as moviegoers are in the midst of a rebirth in horror. We’re seeing less and less huge budget, CGI-laden jump scare fests. Instead, we’re getting more smart, competent indie directors with unique ideas being given the power and budget to make their ideas possible.
“Don’t Breathe” joins the growing list of high-echelon, top crust horror films in the past couple of years.
What makes “Don’t Breathe” most brilliant is its simplicity – simplicity of plot, characters, location, and motivation. It’s not spelled out for viewers like they’re stupid, but when I say the film basically has only three main characters, I think that speaks for itself.
The movie is set in a run-down, obviously economically depressed section of Detroit. I’m talking really run down – graffiti and condemned houses everywhere.
Due to the piss poor economic conditions, the main characters here need to resort to, shall we say, dubious ways of making some cash. And by dubious, I mean robbing people’s homes and pawning off the stuff.
Rocky, played by Jane Levy, is trying to collect up enough cash to escape both the poverty of the city and her absolute mess of a mother to California with her boyfriend, Money, played by Daniel Zovatto.
Money, as his name may suggest, is the baddest of the three characters. He’s a tough guy with cornrows and a dollar sign tattooed on his neck, portrayed from the very first scenes as destructive, impulsive, and dangerous.
Finally comes Alex, played by Dylan Minnette, as the brains and logic of the three. Not only is he not looking to flee the dying city, but he’s the reason they’re able to get away with all their robberies unscathed.
The trio have played it small time until now, collecting only a couple hundred bucks per robbery, which is nowhere near enough to finance a vacation to California, let alone set up a new life.
However, the chance of a lifetime presents itself when the trio learns of an army vet in a virtually abandoned part of town sitting on a massive financial settlement. He lives alone and, to sweeten the deal, is blind. This is their big score, their chance to finally get out of town. Failure is not an option.
Naturally, the trio assumes that the heist will be like taking candy from a blind baby. They are proven very, very wrong when the blind man, played by Stephen Lang, awakens and proves himself to be much more of a threat than they had anticipated.
After the Blind Man’s first encounter with the trio, the movie becomes a bottle film. He padlocks the entrances and windows shut, cutting off any and all methods of escape. The decision to keep the action small and insulated was a brilliant choice from director Fede Alvarez. The film is claustrophobic, to say the very least, and at times is a masterclass in building tension.
A normal soundtrack is abandoned in favor of the ambient sound of the old, creaky house and the characters’ heavy, often panicked breathing. This adds to the tension and amplifies any sounds the characters make, from the ruffling of their clothes to the squeaks of a door hinge. It’s a cat and mouse chase of epic proportions.
Watching a film where the main threat has such an obvious and apparent weakness is refreshing. The cliché of an indestructible, unstoppable monster has gotten old and stale. That type of monster requires no thought, no ingenuity. The care and thought put into nearly every aspect of this film is what makes it unique.
Alvarez’s impact is clearly felt in some of the more sick and twisted ideas presented here. You can tell he was where some of the more controversial ideas in 2013’s “Evil Dead” remake came from after seeing this film.
His familiarity with leading lady Jane Levy, who was also one of the leads in Alvarez’s “Evil Dead,” shines through here. Levy is an up-and-coming star, mark my words. She’s cutting her teeth in the indie horror scene but is due for a commercial breakout soon. Keep your eyes on her.
Stephen Lang puts in a typical Stephen Lang performance. The dude is scary to look at, especially with the milky white effect they put on his eyes. The best part of all is that, to me, he’s not some villain that’s evil just to be evil. I understood his motivations through most of the film, humanizing him even more in some ways.
And, to be very clear, I didn’t sympathize with all of his motivations here. Some of them leave you feeling a bit sick to your stomach after all is said and done.
Consider this a warning for the squeamish. Maybe don’t take a first date to this movie. If you do, you should probably brace yourself for a bit of potential awkwardness.
Overall, I really enjoyed “Don’t Breathe.” Alvarez breathes life into an exceptional, fun and, most importantly, creepy, romp of a bottle film. The cast may be small, the setting may be relatively restrictive, but the showcase here is in the execution of a cool concept.
I recommend this one to damn near everyone, with the possible exception of a first date. But if you do end up enjoying it together, he or she may be the one.