Don’t Breathe, 2016.
Directed by Fede Alvarez.
Starring Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette and Daniel Zovatto.
Rocky, her brash boyfriend Money and their quieter, more level-headed friend Alex, desperately want to start a new life away from their own dysfunctional families. Rocky in particular feels an urgency to rescue her younger child sister from her neglectful and abusive parents. Together, they make what they feel is a reasonable, relatively low-risk decision to rob an isolated, blind veteran’s house for the $300,000 cash he keeps in his basement. Unfortunately for the gang, the ex-soldier is nowhere near as helpless as he first appears. What follows is a tense, deadly game of cat and mouse that’s equal parts Panic Room, Evil Dead and Cujo.
When the remake to Sam Raimi’s sacred horror cow The Evil Dead was announced back in 2011, it was met with some disdain, but nothing on the same scale as what Paul Feig’s (actually reasonably entertaining) Ghostbusters reboot went through this year. As horror fans, our spirits had already been broken a long time ago. The past decade had both demoralised us and desensitised us to the standard Hollywood reboot, re-quel and re-imagining that saw us endure Carrie, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw and Friday the 13th as well as many others. Happily, Fede Alvarez’s Raimi endorsed Evil Dead was in rare air, and was actually pretty spectacular. It was 100% committed to being as outlandishly gory as the censors would permit, and was just a really satisfying roller coaster of a movie.
All of this and then some, applies in equal measure to Fede Alvarez’s sophomore effort Don’t Breathe. It’s been over 3 years since Alvarez’s debut, and while he is still has one foot firmly in the horror genre, on his 2nd outing it’s far more than glorious, gory viscera that captures our attention. Fede has already stated that Don’t Breathe is in many ways a reaction to some of the criticism he received about Evil Dead, in that Don’t Breathe is a completely original story and not a remake; it is far less gory and is more dependent on suspense.
Fede utterly succeeds in his aim and Don’t Breathe is easily one of the most thrilling genre films of the last decade. From the flawless sound design, its snappy pacing, inventive shocks and gorgeous cinematography Don’t Breathe is never less than very, very entertaining. The simple set up no doubt helps. The movie begins with an overhead shot of a grizzly scene from the near end of the film, giving the viewer a real sense of impending doom that hangs over everything that follows.
Fede is extremely good at foreshadowing and telegraphing future events, and he does this very intelligently here in a few ways, giving Don’t Breathe a real sense of symmetry. Fede frames the house as an entity in its own right, and then takes us on a tour, with the camera (somewhat like Panic Room) tracking like sonar through every nook and cranny of the blind man Norman Nordstrom’s house. This gives us a subconscious sense of spacial awareness, and it allows the viewer to feel a tad more like they’re interacting with the events that follow. He also lingers on various props and animals such as Nordstrom’s tool station and his large St. Bernard that come into play later.
Don’t Breathe is surprising in its twists and turns throughout. At various points you may feel empathy and disdain for ALL the characters, as they’re all victims and tormentors. Stephen Lang (Best known for his antagonist role in Avatar) is absolutely jacked here, and cuts an imposing figure despite his characters age and disability. He acts almost entirely without dialogue, hunting the intruders in his home in a manner that’s part Terminator, part Punisher, part Daredevil. Jane Levy also delivers a great performance as Rocky, conveying both a believable strength and appropriate fearfulness, especially during the scenes in total darkness where Nordstrom has the tactical advantage in hunting the gang.
It’s important that you go into Don’t Breathe relatively blind (pun absolutely intended) so that the twists and turns are preserved without spoilers. I can say, that there is one scene in the third act that will be bought up in movie conversations for years to come.
In conclusion, Fede Alvarez has cemented himself here as a potential prestige filmmaker not just limited to the horror genre. From the evidence here, he could make a spectacular crime film, or easily move to the world of the bigger budget comic-book faire. Don’t Breathe, is wonderfully paced, beautifully shot, offers inventive shocks and delivers almost perfect popcorn thrills.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★