Monday, October 16, 2017

31 Days of Horror: Don't Breathe

Directed by Fede Álvarez.
2016. Rated R, 88 minutes.
Stephen Lang
Jane Levy
Dylan Minnette
Daniel Zovatto
Franciska Törőcsik
Emma Bercovici

Whether we admit it or not, we often judge books by their covers. For movies, that often means looking at a movie poster and "figuring out" what the film being advertised is about. I'm probably guilty of this more than most movie bloggers because I don't watch as many trailers as my peers, or at least that's what I assume. For instance, even though I'm a lifelong Star Wars geek, I let the occasion of the release of the latest trailer for The Last Jedi pass without me checking it out. I already know all I need to before plunking down some hard earned cash on the actual film come Christmas time. I didn't drop any loot on Don't Breathe, but I saw the poster and assumed it was a haunted house and/or ghost movie. I hadn't watched any trailers, read any reviews, or even a synopsis of it. I'm glad I didn't and damn glad I was wrong. Rather than being about ghosts, goblins, and other things that go bump in the night, Don't Breathe is a home invasion thriller/horror. However, it's still not what you think of when you hear the phrase home invasion. In this case, it's the invaders who are terrified.

Rocky (Levy), Alex (Minnette), and Money (Zovatto) are those invaders. This trio of knuckleheads performs break-ins together, always when the victims are not at home, and sell what they snatch. Money receives a tip that a big score is there to be had. The catch is the homeowner never leaves the house. Because of that, the rest of the crew is reluctant to do this job, but relents when they find out that even the catch has a catch. The homeowner is blind. Our band of burglars gets into The Blind Man's (Lang) home and pretty soon get way more than they bargained for.

In the tradition of other home invasion flicks, tension is the name of the game. It's cranked to the max the moment our robbers get into the house and never lets up. We're drawn into the screen because of it, even though we're not sure who's side we're on. Rocky and her cohorts are in the middle of a criminal act, but because of the way the film introduces them, we don't actually want to see them come to any harm. However, we intrinsically side with The Blind Man because it's his house they're breaking into. He reacts to them the way many of us hope we will if faced with the same situation. It makes the first half of the film a pretty nerve racking experience.

Plot elements are revealed along the way that do two things simultaneously. First, they disturb us on a core level. They disturb us not because they're things we can't abide by, but because we understand the rationale for doing just that. The piecemeal way in which we find out things adds to our dilemma. Something we understand morphs into something we can't. Or, worse for our nerves, it works in the opposite direction. Something we think there's no justification for turns out to be something we can see a twisted logic in. Eventually, all we know about The Blind Man becomes too much for our conscience to bear, but the journey to get to that point is a harrowing one.

Stephen Lang creates a menacing presence as The Blind Man. We're at once intrigued and frightened of him. The fact he can't see adds to his unpredictability. We have an idea of what he'll do in a given situation, but we have know clue as to what he's protecting since it seems to change every few minutes. And that's a good thing. It keeps us on our toes. It also keeps the robbers on theirs. They provide some interesting opposition to The Blind Man. The game of cat-and-mouse between them drives the film without ever becoming tedious. The performance of Jane Levy as Rocky is very good, as well, making her a solid scream queen.

While Lang is very good, and easily carries the film, it's the work of director Fede Álvarez that makes the film. He is the one who ratchets the tension up to near-unbearable levels. He is also the one who deftly juggles all the plot elements, enabling them to enhance the film without overwhelming it. His hand has crafted a wonderful piece of horror that takes already horrific situation to even more horrific extremes. In that sense, it's not a film that utilizes monsters or the occult to terrorize, it's takes regular human beings, and uses them to get under our skin. Miraculously, perhaps, not one of these people is likable, yet we're all sorts of conflicted on how we feel about them. That's the real source of our horror. What does it say about us that we can sympathize with a film full of people who don't really deserve it?

Click the titles below for reviews of more cat-and-mouse style 
horror flicks


  1. I have this film in my DVR as I'm going to watch it tomorrow. I'm eager to see if it does live up to the hype.

    1. I'm very curious to see what you think about it.

  2. I'm not a 100% sure what I wrote in my review (I did plunk down the cash), but I currently consider this movie nothing short of incredible. It's so f--king tense from just about jump street, I can't imagine there being anyone that didn't have fun with this one. My wife hates scary movies, and she nervously laughed/cringed her ass off as we grinded through this one. Alvarez also helmed the brutal-ass remake of Evil Dead, essentially making him the current God of horror in my eyes.

    GREAT review. Glad you dug this one.

    1. Thanks. I really dug this one. So much fun. Dark fun, mind you, but fun.