R, 88 mins.
2016, R, 88 mins.
Dylan Minnette as Alex / Jane Levy as Rocky / Daniel Zovatto as Money / Stephen Lang as The Blind Man
Directed by Fede Alvarez / Written by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues Mendez
Iím not a fan of the slasher or torture porn horror genres at all. Throwing mindless amounts of gore on screen is relatively easy.
Now, scaring audience members and eliciting in them sustained feelings of unease and dreadÖthatís a lot harder.
why I appreciate the inherent challenge of what it takes to harness
psychological horror thrillers more than other horror efforts, and the
scantly budgeted $9 million DONíT BREATHE lives and, yes, breathes by
its fairly ingenious premise and the manner that it taps into several
primal human phobiasÖand all without wallowing
(well, for the most part) in dime-a-dozen horror film conventions.
when you break it down to its very essence, is a highly effective
meat-and-potatoes kind of home invasion thriller with a highly novel twist
that ultimately favors nail biting suspense and shocking viewers first and
blood spewing carnage second (granted, the film contains copious amounts
of that too). The film was
produced by Sam Raimi (no stranger to horror films) and directed by Fede
Alvarez, whom previously directed the EVIL DEAD remake a few years ago.
DONíT BREATHE couldnít be anymore of a different turn for
Alvarez, seeing that itís a more chillingly effective mood piece that
finds fiendishly clever ways of manipulating viewer expectations with
its relatively minimalist premise. Much
like BURIED Ė another deeply disturbing
thriller about with a simplistic angle Ė DONíT BREATHE works overtime
to make us feel as hellishly claustrophobic as its characters, and the
film overall ends up overcoming some of its preposterous story
mechanizations (more on that in a bit) with its endless aesthetic
And yes, there
have been countless home invasion thrillers before, but not like this one.
DONíT BREATHE very quickly introduces us a trio of slum-living
Detroit teens that are desperately trying to make a living during some
economically devastating times. They
are Rocky (Jane Levy), Money (Daniel Zovatto) and Alex (Dylan Minnette),
and together they pull off successful home break ins and robberies based on
the convenient fact that Alexís dad runs a security company, which
leaves him with access to keys and alarm codes (granted, the film never
really plausibly relays how Alex is so easily able to get such valuable
assets undetected). The trio
of youthful crooks wants to make enough easy dough in order to flee the
city and make lives someplace else. This
leads them to their next big potential score: an old Iraqi war vet (Stephen
Lang) thatís sitting on nearly half a million dollars that may or may
not be located in his outwardly dilapidated home.
The old man in
particular is also blind as a bat.
To Rocky and
Money, this seems like it could be the easiest robbery of their lives,
seeing as ďThe Blind ManĒ is...wellÖblind...and would hardly put up a
fightÖright? Alex seems to
have more ethical concerns regarding stealing from a disabled man and, in
turn, doesnít like the risk of breaking into a home that may not
actually contain the money he and his partners crave. Nevertheless, Alex is pressured into joining them on their
nocturnal break and enter of the Blind Manís dwelling, and early on it
certainly appears like they face no opposition from him.
Unfortunately, locating the loot becomes rather difficult, not to
mention that the noise the teens make wakes up the man, who demonstrates
in a savage burst of violence that he is indeed no ordinary blind man.
Heís an incredibly deadly killer that uses his surroundings
and his heightened other senses as tools to keep the robbers locked in as he methodically plots to pick them off one after another.
I donít want to
say more about DONíT BREATHE, which would easily dive deep into heavy
spoiler territory, other than to say that the film is twisted fun as a
morality tale about the inherent perils of crime and the notion of how a
younger generation pays no respect whatsoever to their elders.
The way that Alvarez and his teams convey an immediate sense of the
houseís geography (through one impeccably smooth and bravura unbroken
tracking shot) is crucial to communicating to audiences the particulars of
how the robbers and the Blind Man relate to one another from scene to
scene. The startling
lethality of the Blind Man is most assuredly terrifying, but his home
almost becomes more of a frightening entity in the film for how in
continually constricts the movement of Rocky and company and their ability
to safely reach the outside world.
intuitively understands the value of silence in his film, and he uses it
at just the right key moments to make us feel as breathlessly uneasy as
the Blind Manís pathetic targets. There
are plenty of obligatory jump scares here, to be sure, but the unsettling build up to them is DONíT BREATHEís real coup
de grace. We know that the
Blind Man (and his equally vicious and bloodthirsty attack dog) could lunge
out of any dark corner at any moment in the film, but Alvarez is as
mischievous as Hitchcock in terms of leaving us guessing as to when such
attacks will occur. The
filmís most genuinely gut wrenching sequence occurs when the Blind Man
traps Rocky and Alex in a cramped and dreary basement and immediately
shuts the power down, thus leaving them as visually impaired as he is.
However, he knows the layout of the basement like the back of his
hand, whereas Rocky and Alex struggle with each new step to get their
bearings and hopefully not knock something over that would tip off their
location to their attacker. Alvarez
shoots the entire sequence in a form of monochromatic night vision that
displays the victimsí dilated pupiled terror on full display.
Itís as quietly distressing of a scene as any Iíve seen in a
Stephen Lang is
an underrated actor that usually doesnít garner much respect, perhaps
because he plays so many deranged loose cannons in films.
Yet, heís so systematically great at playing them, and thereís
no doubt that his mostly mute, but intimidatingly raw physical performance
here is the very stuff of monstrous nightmares.
I also liked Jane Levyís thankless work here as well, seeing as
she's dealt a very difficult challenge for an actress in terms of being
thrust into a performance corner that forces her to evoke a wholly
authentic sense of fearfulness and paralyzing anxiety from a character
thatís not really all that fleshed out on paper.
Rocky and her friends are not fully developed personas; they're essentially props for the Blind Manís savage guerrilla attacks
throughout the film. Outside
of the fact that Rocky and her pals steal to put food on their tables, the
screenplay here doesnít really do much to make us truly sympathize with
them or their plight at all.
has other issues as well, such as some thorny third act developments
(which leads to a rather perplexing and logic defying climax).
It's at this time when some dark secrets of the Blind Man are
revealed that all but change his motivations from that of a crazy old
codger trying to defend his home and into the type of merciless predatory
monster that populates the very one-note horror films that DONíT
BREATHE Ė through a majority of its running time Ė was trying not to
emulate. For a film like this
that spends so much time flipping the bird to stale horror clichťs to
eventually fall back on them is ultimately a shame.
Even though the third act totally lost me, thereís no denying the
consummate no-nonsense craft and smartly focused manner than Alvarez
employs here in delivering a well oiled and sustained engine designed to
scare us. DONíT BREATHE,
for the most part, is a brutally effective exercise in maliciously
tormenting us. The
film also contains a highly valuable life lesson for all potential career
youth crooks out there:
Donít break into a blind manís home, especially if that blind man is Stephen Lang.