Don't Breathe is directed by Fede Alvarez and stars Jane Levy and Stephen Lang.
On paper, Don't Breathe has no business being any kind of meaningful addition to the home invasion horror subgenre. It has no head-turning stars to its credit, unless that's how you think of Stephen Lang, whose only other notable credit in recent years is Avatar. Jane Levy still has a ways to go if she wants to be praised alongside the likes of Jennifer Lawrence and Alicia Vikander. The poster confusingly informs us of how it comes from the creators of Evil Dead (the soft remake, FYI), even though Sam Raimi's only credit here is as a producer. What is there to possibly expect from yet another horror flick whose protagonists are a group of bone-headed teenagers who just happen to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Unlike any and all Insidious, The Conjuring, and pretty much any other popular supernatural horror movie knock-offs, Don't Breathe offers a realistic story approach with absolutely zero presence from the likes of some spiritual demon or malevolent ghoul. And even though teenage protagonists are the most groan-inducing protagonists in a horror movie, they're pretty much the most efficient set when it comes to maximizing Don't Breathe's story. It wouldn't be very interesting to watching Betty White, June Squibb, and Michael Caine try to break into a house and steal money (Although if it was just Betty White, I might have to reconsider. Plus, you can go and watch the Going in Style remake if you need your Michael Caine robbing a bank fill). You can easily look at Don't Breathe as an example of young folks suffering the consequences of committing wrongful acts and sticking their noses where they don't belong.
That is exactly what our teenage trio does in Don't Breathe. The trio consists of Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto), living in Detroit, Michigan, and committing various robberies at homes that use a security system from Alex's father's company. Rocky dreams of moving away to California to get away from her neglectful mother and her alcoholic boyfriend. Money learns of a house in an abandoned Detroit neighborhood that contains $300,000 in cash. Living in the house is a retired US Army Special Forces veteran (Stephen Lang) who lost his sight in the line of duty. The three break into the house one night, but The Blind Man isn't planning on making things easy for Rocky and company.
I'll just come out and say it: Don't Breathe is one of the better horror movies to come out in the past few years. Stephen Lang is stellar as the film's villain, but really though, is he the villain? Are there villains at all in this movie? Rocky, Alex, and Money are burglars, though they have good intentions with what they hope to accomplish in the long run. They live in a rundown neighborhood where they can't exactly live life to the fullest. The Blind Man reasonably retaliates when he realizes that people are breaking into his house. The robbery eventually turns into a battle of wits and a matter of survival for Rocky and crew. The majority of the film takes place in The Blind Man's house, and that leads to various strengths and weaknesses.
- The film delivers quality suspense when it's clear that Rocky, Alex, and Money aren't going to be able to easily escape the house. The Blind Man is a paranoid loner who padlocks all of his doors and puts bars on all the windows, and he has a vicious rottweiler to watch on the outside for trespassers. Rocky, Alex, and Money easily bypass the dog by drugging it, but once they are in the house, The Blind Man is there nearly every step of the way. The suspense lies in how our protagonists have to traverse the house without speaking a word and knowing that one slip-up means their lives. And to top things off, Don't Breathe limits how many pure jump scares that it comes at you with, relying on staying as silent as necessary to fuel the tension between the burglar trio and The Blind Man.
- Stephen Lang gives the film's best performance by far. Certain plot points will inform us how and why The Blind Man is depressed, angry, and reclusive. He's also a menacing force who just won't stay down no matter what Rocky or anyone else tries. Goes to show you don't always need a ghoul, demon monster to make for a scary, suspenseful film.
- Since the film takes place largely in one location, the plot stagnates rather quickly. As suspenseful as the film can be at times, it also can feel like nothing is happening for large stretches. There is a neat sequence in which Rocky and Alex try to dodge The Blind Man in the basement with the lights out, but other than that, it can feel as if all that is happening specifically is the three just sneaking around the house trying to find the money and avoid alerting The Blind Man. There are certain things that do happen to propel the story along, and all I'll say is that it's pretty disgusting. Squeamish folks, beware.
It's a quick watch at only 88 minutes, and a perfect choice for any of you out there with a constant horror movie appetite. All of the characters have reasonable motivations for what they do, and despite a plot that gets stuck in the dirt at times, there's plenty of suspense and good bloody violence to please even the more demanding of horror buffs. Don't Breathe might not totally take your breath away, but it definitely delivers the goods. And given the shaky state of horror nowadays, that can go a long way.
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