Don’t Breathe is a well crafted horror thrill ride that’s worth the price of admission, despite some minor imperfections.
I’ve discussed the most recent Paranormal Activity as being a sort of haunted house ride, but Don’t Breathe has something that those films lack: Tension. Like Hitchcock’s approach to horror, the director, Fede Alvarez favours suspense over violence, with a slight sprinkling of exploitation.
I love concise, no bullshit horror, and Don’t Breathe takes exactly as long as it needs to in order to set up the film. Rocky, Money, and Alex are small time thieves and they like it that way. They keep their hauls under 10000 to remain petty if they get caught. But when a fence gives them a tip on an easy six figure score, they can’t pass it up. The mark is a blind veteran in a deserted house situated somewhere in the middle of god-fuck-nowhere Detroit. The six-figure cash settlement resides within his dilapidated house. When they spot him with his seeing-eye dog, Cujo junior, they have their reservations. But Money aptly points out that, “Just cause he’s blind, don’t make him a saint.” This is the one and only time to take advice from a guy named Money.
The first click click of the ride kicks off with a “single take” tracking shot through the house the moment they get inside. Here Alvarez takes a page from Fincher’s book, and delivers a scene like this one from Panic room. This omniscient eye pauses slightly on things of significance, like hammers and such, as it lays out the blueprint for the old dark house. Alvarez accomplishes some striking visuals but he seemed a little too proud of them because he kicks off the film with a beautiful shot that gives away some of the ending. Come on, man.
To his credit, that didn’t stop me from muttering at the screen like a god damned lunatic, in the hopes that these punks would take my sage advice and stay the fuck out of the basement. It also didn’t stop me from sweating more than a trip to the gym as the film unfolded from one tense-as-hell ten minute set piece to another. The heroes try to jump out of the frying pan and perpetually end up in the fire. When they do get out, something always draws them back in. They’re mice in a maze of barred windows and blocked exits. In order to get the most out of the experience, I’d avoid the trailer as it gives away a few of these twists and turns.
The longer they remain in the house the more their situation deteriorates. For the climax, the vet kills the lights and our heroes descend into darkness, groping around the basement labyrinth in a night vision sequence that owes a little to recent film, Sicario. But in general Don’t Breathe owes a lot to the classic, Wait Until Dark with Audrey Hepburn, about a blind woman defending her home from three criminals. Only here, the blind “Victim” is hardly sympathetic. Lang fits perfectly into the villains shoes, he’s older but his physique is still imposing.
Sure, I can be nit picky after the film. I can call out the fact that Lang moves like Jason Bourne in some scenes, and Mr. Magoo in others, but the film’s track is so well greased that the audience isn’t given an opportunity to pick the film apart while its rolling. If you’re a fan of horror, hold on to your suspension of disbelief until the end of the movie and I think you’ll like the ride. After Green Room, and this film, my faith in horror is slowly getting restored.