Hoping to walk away with a massive fortune, a trio of thieves break into the house of a blind man who isn’t as helpless as he seems.
Director: Fede Alvarez
Starring: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang, Emma Berkovici, Katia Bokor, Sergej Onopko
Rated: R (terror, violence, disturbing content, and language including sexual references)
By Matt Greene
Don’t Breathe seems like nothing more than a gimmicky premise parading around as an unique thriller. Luckily, it’s more than that. Eschewing the uniquitous teeny-centric scare-fests we are so often bridled with, director Alvarez has sidestepped convention to give us a brutal genre picture full of “What in the world?!” surprises and jaw-dropping twists. Thanks to the strength in its accomplished direction and focused scope, Don’t Breathe is a pull-no-punches, edge-of-your-seat nightmare.
It’s a reverse of the home-invasion story, like a slightly less compelling (although more purely plotted) version of 10 Cloverfield Lane: a group of burglars is terrorized by the homeowner, blind war veteran who is more than meets the eye. Alvrez’s direction is unexpectedly strong, as the clever camera work and immense details pull us right in. In particular, the way a blind person may setup up their home is perfectly realized (empty rooms, backwards-facing TVs). On top of that, the fight scenes are well-staged and the sound editing mixed with the score beautifully manipulates the tension.
The characters, unfortunately, are not as successful. The cool meta-element that speaks of film-going voyeurism gets a bit lost when the characters aren’t quite engaging enough. A movie-personification of the axiom “hurt people hurt people”, and Lang as the blind, pseudo-villain is the only real high-point as an effectively imposing and volatile presence. Otherwise, the motivations range from clichéd to weak, desperately needing more layers and better dialogue (again, see 10 Cloverfield Lane). Luckily, when you’re deep inside this joylessly demented thriller, it’s roller-coaster scares are the perfect post-summer escape at the theaters.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
By Cole Schneider
“Don’t Breathe” is a skillful, showy version of most every bad horror movie I’ve seen. Its camera work and ability to create a claustrophobic space are really remarkable. Unfortunately the characters that inhabit those spaces are so clichéd they push passed the borders of ridiculousness. The narrative follows three thieving kids—a wannabe gangster complete with cornrows and a false bravado, his girlfriend with a rough home life, and another boy who likes the girl but isn’t cool enough to push beyond the “friendzone”—who one day uproot all of their rules, which include not taking cash and not stealing while the owner is home, in order to nab thousands and move to California. Once inside, they realize the blind owner is much less helpless than anyone could have guessed. Cat and mouse games ensue, over and over, and eventually the credits roll.
Stephen Lang, playing the blind monster, and Jane Levy playing the girl, are brilliant, even if the latter rings a bit underdeveloped. The other characters, especially including one I’m intentionally forgetting to mention, are pathetic at best. Eventually it also becomes clear that there is only enough here for a 45 minute movie. To buff it up to feature length the writers add a disgusting moral element that doesn’t serve the story proper for a second and ultimately exists only to add length and shock value. Characters die only to find out later they miraculously made it through that prior event alive. Then they die again, only to survive again. And again. “Don’t Breathe” is like 8 solid short thrillers that are almost identical, shown back-to-back, with one trashy interlude thrown in the middle.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars