Movie Review: “Don’t Breathe” – Fear Is Blind

Written by Jesse Gelinas September 05, 2016

Stephen Lang as The Blind Man in "Don't Breathe"I am usually pretty skeptical about the latest “clever twist” on horror with another half-assed gimmick. Earlier this year Hush, about a deaf woman terrorized by a serial killer outside her house, made me rethink what a solid device can do to elevate an otherwise standard horror setup. Don’t Breathe takes this idea a step further, laying the disadvantage not on our “heroes,” but on their tormenter. While that may at first seem a bit unfair, trust me, it works, and its implications are terrifying.

In Detroit three friends dream of absconding to California. To fund their pipedream, Rocky, Alex, and Money (Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto) rob the homes of rich individuals whose home security is installed by Alex’s father. The trio are smart, efficient, but overconfident. Hearing a tip about a huge sum of cash hidden inside a rundown home in a near-abandoned end of town. The only resident? A blind war veteran (Stephen Lang). The catch? He isn’t as helpless as he seems, and he’s hiding a darkness inside his house that quickly turns the home invaders, into desperate prisoners.

“How many of you are there?”

When the film began I found myself picking out the character’s roles quite easily. The asshole boyfriend who will die early to show the stakes are serious. The nice-guy friend we’re supposed to relate to who will die later just when we thought we were safe, and the semi-heroic girl who *might* survive because she actually has a reason for doing what she’s doing. It’s all a very basic horror setup. Our teens aren’t sexually obscene or desecrating an ancient summer camp burial ground or anything, but the tropes are still present. The film doesn’t waste too much time trying to get us to like these delinquents; they are thieves after all, willingly robbing a lonely blind man. What’s to like?

Alex hides from The Blind Man in "Don't Breathe"

Once the action kicks off, however, sympathy gives way to audience participation. You find yourself right there with the trio, trapped in the house, in the silence of the dark, suddenly conscious of every breath and shifting sound. Alvarez builds terrific tension with his use of silence to really draw the viewer into the scene. I did find myself more than a few times, wincing and cringing at every unnecessary sound the characters made, scared for them and for myself that bloody violence was waiting around every corner. Yes, there are a few jump scares, and a couple (very long, lingering) gross-out shots, but they’re so few and far between that they actually compliment, rather than detract from the wonderful suspense.

“You need to be held accountable.”

Don’t Breathe‘s performances are all perfectly serviceable. None of our “heroes” really stand out. They do seem like a solid throwback to 80s slasher-fodder. There are even a couple cheesy one-liners thrown in towards the end just for flavour. There’s some tragic backstory peppered in, threatening to make you feel for the villain (the blind man, whose home is being robbed), but then someone pulls out a turkey baster and you really just want things to stop, stop, stop right now.

Rocky and tThe Blind Man on even ground in "Don't Breathe"

The film’s true quality is driven by Stephen Lang. The man is an absolute monster at 64-years old, and manages to be a hell of a lot more intimidating that a lot of other horror baddies nowadays. His presence is felt throughout the entire film, even when he’s not on screen. The direction, coupled with Lang’s quiet intensity is the foundation of the true horror of Don’t Breathe. I was reminded multiple times of Lovecraft’s The Terrible Old Man, a short story about three thieves who try to rob a helpless old man, and are never seen again. I have to wonder if this was an intentional homage from Alvarez, or just coincidence. Regardless, the blind man is presented as an almost unstoppable tormentor, and a truly threatening force.

The blind man’s dog even manages to out-Cujo Cujo, terrorizing our heroes through living rooms, crawlspaces, and empty streets. In an age where dogs in horror movies are almost always soon-to-be-killed props for a cheap emotional pop, it was oddly pleasing to see one that was actually frightening again.

“You’re worthless out here!”

All in all, while I wasn’t a fan of Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake, Don’t Breathe is a huge step up, and in the right direction for a talented horror director. These, quiet, intimate stories of survival, unassuming people thrown into life or death situations are terrifying by nature. Don’t Breathe is a simple, yet thoughtful genre flick that manages to elevate itself with precise direction, giving us suspense to showcase that knowing when to old back is just as important as when to strike.

My Rating: 8/10

Theatrical poster for "Don't Breathe"

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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