UK Release Date: 9th September 2016
Runtime: 88 minutes
Director: Fede Alvarez
Writer: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Starring: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Stephen Lang, Daniel Zovatto
Synopsis: A trio of young burglars get more than they bargained for when they attempt to steal from the safe of a blind man who received a major compensation payout. The man is a war vet with serious combat skills and he won’t give up his cash without a fight.
Don’t Breathe is a superbly executed horror-thriller that understands the fundamentals of tension. Directed by Fede Alvarez, last seen at the helm of the criminally underrated Evil Dead remake, Don’t Breathe follows a group of young thieves who burglarise wealthy homeowners. Their next big score comes in the form of Stephen Lang’s blind war veteran, who happens to have just come into a huge sum of money after his daughter’s death in a road accident. A target you can steal from even when he is in the house? What could possibly go wrong?
Lang’s character has military experience and keen other senses, which mean he’s well equipped to hunt down and find these intruders. The setting of Detroit is a very deliberate choice the film uses for multiple purposes. Lang’s character lives in an area clearly hit heavily by the city’s financial woes leaving him as the only one left in the neighbourhood. In deprived areas of Detroit, no one can hear you scream. It also lends motivation to our protagonist Rocky (Jane Levy) who is drawn into crime by the necessity to get her and her sister away from their impoverished way of life.
The film has a brilliant structure that more home invasion movies should embrace. The first third of the movie is a rather slow build and spends a large amount of time helping the audience understand the geography of the house. This pays dividends later in the movie as characters race around the building trying to evade their pursuer. It’s always crystal clear where every character is and where they are attempting to get to, a feat that many other movies take for granted and the extra effort the movie exerts to get this right should be applauded.
Don’t Breathe is at its best when it’s building tension, whether that be a mistimed phone vibration or attempts to fumble slowly in the darkness of a cluttered basement. Alvarez knows how to keep an audience on edge and itching for the next scare.
While I think Don’t Breathe is an excellent horror movie and potentially the best of the year so far, it doesn’t completely stick the landing. The premise is interesting enough to put butts in seats, but the movie stretches itself to include a water cooler moment that takes things a little too far. The film features a twist that changes the audience’s allegiances and at first this actually works quite well. Unfortunately, it leads to another twist that goes out of its way to be as creepy and perverse as possible.
While some of the creepiness is manifested in very creative visuals that are sure to turn some viewer’s stomachs, it comes off as a little desperate and mean-spirited, which is an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise incredibly well-crafted movie. Another issue is the bending of reality when it comes to what Lang’s character can accomplish. At times he can’t hear breathing within an inch of his face and the next moment he has the hearing range of Daredevil. I don’t think it’s enough to take anyone out of the movie, but a bit more consistency would have helped to ground the film. Finally, I’d be amiss to not mention the fact that the movie starts with the dreaded wraparound opening. It acts as a mild spoiler and adds nothing to the plot.
Despite these criticisms, Don’t Breathe is a must see horror movie. I’d even recommend it to those who aren’t fans of horror as the movie is predominantly a thriller more than anything with only a single gross out moment and is relatively light on jump scares. Lang is fantastic, as is Levy in the leading role. It’s well-executed, gripping and original and I can’t wait to see what Alvarez does next.
Pop or Poop?
Don’t Breathe is, ironically, a breath of fresh air in the horror genre that takes an original premise married with excellent direction and structuring to create a gripping hour and a half of entertainment that horror and thriller fans alike should check out.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.