Review - Don't Breathe
I thought watching the trailer for Don’t Breathe was a great idea. I thought I’d get a glimpse of what director Fede Alvarez has been up to since his 2011 remake of Evil Dead. I thought the trailer evoked feelings of excitement and joy, reeling me in for what I suspected to be a home invasion thrillride, but I never thought I’d feel so unprepared, so vulnerable, and so astonished after watching the film itself.
Don’t Breathe follows three young burglars looking for a big score, one that might allow them to start new lives far away, and the tip they receive is about a blind veteran who’s receiving compensation from a wealthy family after his daughter was killed in a car accident. Little did Alex (Dylan Minnette), Rocky (Jane Levy), and Money (Daniel Zovatto) know, that the Blind Man (Stephen Lang) they’re robbing from isn’t so helpless and what was supposed to be an easy job becomes a game of life and death.
This is a polarizing film. It’s been a long time since a film has made me so uncomfortable in a theater yet so giddy with excitement of what’s going to transpire in the next scene. Don’t Breathe is truly a theater experience. I saw it at the Alamo Drafthouse and there are moments so ripe with tension that I noticed the audience, my SO, and even myself were holding our breath in anticipation. When I can’t even hear the audience chewing their food, that is truly a unique experience.
I don’t want to get into too many details about the film as it may spoil specific scenes and imagery but first and foremost the greatest asset of this film is the sound design. From the opening credits, there’s a low bass hum in the background and as the credits progress, the hum gets louder, really signalling that the volume is several decibels higher than it should be, and what it will be set at for the next hour and a half and oh boy, is it great. When characters are speaking, it’s like they’re right there next to you. When a gun goes off, you feel the explosive power of God behind each shot. Every footstep, every breath, every puff of a sizzling cigarette is effective at evoking a sense of immersion and realism unheard of in recent memory.
The cinematography is beautiful too. Pedro Luque does an incredible amount with what little he’s given and turns the Blind Man’s house, and even the neighborhood in which it resides, into a character of its own. By the end of the movie, a blueprint of the house became imprinted in my mind and I could interpret what hallway leads where and what doorway may lead the characters directly into the Blind Man’s path. Tight corridors and vents feel claustrophobic and personal, adding to that violation of personal space when the Blind Man steps ever closer to the characters. There is also an incredible use of lighting, adding the villain’s own handicap at times to trap the main characters.
If there’s one thing I absolutely loved about this movie was how unexpected every jumpscare and every violent moment felt. Nothing felt preordained or orchestrated. Instead, the film liked subverting any expectations of my previous horror experiences. Every time I thought the movie was going up, instead it was going straight down. The film even introduces huge moral dilemmas that I didn’t see coming and once certain choices were made, there was no going back.
Just like before in Evil Dead, Jane Levy knocks it out of the park as Rocky, who is the most capable and emotionally stable of the three but she’s also incredibly vulnerable when she needs to be. This is the second film I’ve seen Jane Levy in but she really is the next great horror hero and her work relationship with Fede Alvarez is reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s and Bruce Campbell’s work together and something I look forward to seeing more of. Dylan Minnette as Alex and Daniel Zavatto as Money are very good in their roles as well with Alex being the introverted hero while Money is more of the stereotypical tough guy, and they’re good characters but purposely underplayed to further the plot. Stephen Lang is absolutely terrifying as the Blind Man and one of the most physically intimidating villains in recent memory. I felt that if he were able to get his hands on a character, they were done for. He’s also silent for most of the film but when he speaks, it’s powerful and horrific.
Don’t Breathe is by no means the greatest horror-thriller but it is the best one in recent memory, thanks to a little sound design and clever subversions of the genre. Fede Alvarez and Jane Levy have once again exceeded expectations, just like that of Don’t Breathe.