Director Fede Alvarez/2016
Horror films have become a dime a dozen these days. For aficionados, long bored with the latest attempts to create fear with cheap jump scares, overly telegraphed fright sequences, and the ever tiresome “found footage” angle, good horror films are hard to come by. Last year’s It Follows, The Babadook, and this year’s The Witch, were more the exception than the rule. This year, Don’t Breathe enters the cineplex with a new angle.
While being marketed as a “horror” film, this is actually a very suspenseful home invasion story with a very clever antagonist, who may just be an innocent victim, or something much darker. There are occasional jump scares, but the straightforward plot and unique angle help create a film that flows quickly and with the right amount of tension and rests throughout its runtime to make seeing this movie a fun experience.
Alex (Dylan Minnette) seems to be a good kid, except when he is using his access to keys to houses guarded by his father’s security company as a means to rob these same houses along with the object of his undeclared affection, Rocky (Jane Levy), and her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto). Looking for a big score to help them escape the decaying city of Detroit for the California coast, Money brings a possible target to Rocky and Alex.
The film is tense throughout, and should do for home invasion what Jaws did for oceans. Just as people should be afraid to go into the water, people should equally be afraid of trying to take things that don’t belong to them.
The target is a home occupied by a blind, army veteran (Stephen Lang) from the first Iraq War who came into some money from a settlement when the daughter of a wealthy businessman struck and killed his son. They believe the money to be in the house, and given the fact that this house is on a street that is no longer occupied, and the fact that the target is blind, they think this makes this job a sure thing.
Once inside the home, they quickly learn that just because one is blind, it doesn’t mean they are helpless. The hunted becomes the hunter, using the other senses he has to hunt them down within his own home. The film is tense throughout, and should do for home invasion what Jaws did for oceans. Just as people should be afraid to go into the water, people should equally be afraid of trying to take things that don’t belong to them. Especially as you learn more about the blind man (his actual character’s name in the credits) and his dark secret.
While there are moments of pure cheese, such as the dialogue and actions of Money, the film largely works because it takes the time to invest the setup which allows the tension to be more easily felt. The marketing, and the terrible trailer, do this film no justice, but it is easily one of the most fun films of the summer, especially compared to all of the would-be blockbusters released this summer that have come and gone. It is pure escapism and nothing more, and for that, I can forgive a multitude of sins.
Director Fede Alvarez, who previously directed The Evil Dead remake, allows the film to build its tension progressively without forcing the issue through hurried sequences that most horror/suspense films rely on to keep the action moving so fast that it causes you to forget any of its failures. Don’t Breathe just knows what kind of movie it is, and it doesn’t try to be anything more. This film also features one of the most cringe-inducing twists I’ve seen in a while, and will surely creep many out, especially if you are a woman.
The film is confident in its future success. So much so, that it has set itself up for many, many possible sequels. If they are smart, however, the studio will resist the urge to “franchise” this series and just give audiences what they wanted all along which is a good, tense thriller. If they focus on that, then any future installments will take care of themselves, which may be good advice for studios in general.
As summer draws to a close, and autumn stands idly by, waiting to come rolling in, we brace ourselves for a whole new crop of horror films to be dropped in our lap, just before Halloween. Fortunately, Don’t Breathe has arrived first and has shown us what a tense, yet fun summer film could be . It’s not perfect by any means, but it is built to entertain…as long as you can catch your breath!