Don’t Breathe, 2016.
Directed by Fede Alvarez.
Starring Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette and Daniel Zovatto.
Three hard up thieves’ target a war veteran who they believe is sitting on a hefty pay out after the death of his daughter. Considering his blindness and his age they all think this will be an easy score but as they soon learn after breaking in, things aren’t that simple.
Don’t Breathe is an intense experience. Don’t be too fooled by its simple home invasion premise, the film twists and turns into one of the most unpredictable horrors of recent times. It’s a relentless ride of pure dread. Director Fede Alvarez wastes no time in keying us into the type of movie we are going to see. Right from the opening shot (and indeed the trailer), it’s clear that there is something sinister about Stephen Lang’s blind veteran. Meaning from the beginning the tension is already being racked up.
Focusing on this increasing threat is at the sacrifice of more narrative depth. Don’t expect much exposition or exploration of character, the script is stripped down to the essential barebones. It’s a lesson in story efficiency that within the opening 20 minutes the three burglars have a clear reason to be inside the house looking to steal money. Interestingly there is an added dynamic of moral ambiguity at who the audience are to side with after all, the main leads are stealing from a war veteran. This makes you question who to back during the course of the film.
Despite having little in the way of dialogue Stephen Lang’s performance as the malevolent house owner is the standout. An imposing, frighteningly physical figure who tracks through darkened corridors using only sounds & his knowledge of the house to hunt his prey. Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette and Daniel Zovatto all star as the hapless thieves but the script really allows only for them to be template characters.
Fede Alvarez’s last film, the much-debated reboot of Evil Dead was a blood heavy splatter-fest which concentrated on the supernatural gross out. His second film however, is much different. Rather than focusing on gore it works more subtlety. Through a constant building of tension the film manages to deliver some good twists. Ultimately a game of cat and mouse that leads us down a path of expectation only to do something else entirely. This is especially apparent in the last set piece which delivers an unexpected final segment. This unpredictability means you are practically on the edge of your seat through most of the film.
For one enclosed location cinematographer Pedro Luque has brought a fantastic scope, palette and invention to the visuals. He lights what is essentially a dark house excellently but even pushes into a night vision aesthetic as the film goes on. It’s a risk strategy but one that really pays off seeing Rocky (Jane Levy) reaching into the darkness when she is actually centimetres away from touching the villain is a real heart in your mouth moment.
With characters in the dark pitted against a blind assailant the importance of sound is paramount and Don’t Breathe doesn’t disappoint. Every breath, creaky floorboard and footstep are emphasised to cut through the silence and it really hammers home the point that any noise however slight could mean death.
In a year that has already seen some pretty decent horror movies Don’t Breathe is a high quality addition. Its merciless increasing of tension results in a brutal and relentless watch. The suspense is maintained by its unexpectedness. From a simple premise, it really delivers a fantastic thrill ride that will have you squeezing the arm rests in the cinema. Director Alvarez has really delivered in his second feature and this could be one that will have us looking out for his name in the future.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★