A group of friends attempt to rob the house of a blind veteran
and end up trapped by him in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game.
Don't Breathe (2016)
Directed by Fede Alvarez
Written by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues
Starring Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Stephen Lang,
Daniel Zovatto, Emma Bercovici, Franciska Töröcsik
Fede Alvarez made quite the impression to horror fans when he brought us his vision for The Evil Dead. I saw that when it came out and liked what he did with the property as he is not afraid to get down and dirty or spill some blood. His next effort was this film that saw him bring back Jane Levy as one of a three-person team of thieves who get more than they bargained for after they assume that their latest target, a blind man, will be easy pickings. He is anything but an easy target.
The premise of this movie is simple enough: a home invasion movie with a twist that sees the invaders become the victims. Where Don't Breathe excels in my opinion is using the other elements of filmmaking (sound design, cinematography, camera work, and score) to really emphasize the tension that is in this movie. The three thieves are fairly stock and really shouldn't be sympathetic characters in this movie but that is where we find ourselves as viewers when they find out that their mark (played brilliantly by Stephen Lang) is not as helpless as they thought he was. What I really enjoyed about the film once it entered the house, is how Alvarez and his cinematographer Pedro Luque use lighting (and the lack thereof later on) in conjunction with frenetic steadicam work that ratchets up the tension once the Blind Man locks Rocky (Levy) and Alex (Minnette) in with him after putting a bullet into the brain of the annoying Money (Zovatto). While this film could have relied on natural lighting from within the world of the film, Luque chooses to go for flashes of different colors to light the scenes in the film, making this anything but annoying on the eyes. Even the music is different and saw Alavarez enlist the help of a musician who manufactures his own instruments that seem to give the house its own orchestra and I found some of the sounds to be disturbing and jarring in a good way. It could have easily been farmed out to an orchestra or even someone with a synthesizer but that is most certainly not the case. I feel like the other elements of the construction of the film add more layers to something that is pretty simple from a storytelling perspective.
Now, anyone that has seen this movie will undoubtedly have one scene stuck in their minds about this movie. A scene that could be considered unnecessary but I contend that it further twists and forces the audience's allegiance to shift once again and root for Rocky to make it out alive. To make it clear: there are no 'good' characters here in the moral sense. Rocky and company were going to rob the Blind Man for a million bucks and he has a woman chained up in his basement to extract (pun not intended) his own brand of justice, this is not a cut and dry scenario. You are not really sure who you want to come out on top in this flick but this is anything but a boring movie. The violence and tension are top notch as well as the sound design, camera work, and soundtrack. I'm not really sure what is in store for the Blind Man with the sequel coming up because having us root for this guy is not easy but I'm sure Fede Alvarez will make it entertaining.
Don't Breathe was a thrilling home invasion story that took a hard left towards the end into dark disturbing territory that left a bad taste in my mouth. Anchored by strong performances from all, this film succeeds in transforming a premise that barely would've worked for a short film into a full length feature with memorable characters and a good number of scares. In the end, it just wasn't what I was looking for. I was hoping for something more on the level of You're Next. Instead, Don't Breathe gets weird and uncomfortable once you realize what the Blind Man's true motives are.
Stephen Lang delivered a phenomenal performances with barely any dialogue. He made the Blind Man a terrifying force to be reckoned with and his presence is felt throughout the film since you never know where he's gonna pop up in his murder house next. Jane Levy was a great protagonist, even if she and her friends were horrible people intending to rob a blind guy. If the blind guy hadn't turned out to be a psychotic, they would've been impossible to root for. Still, she did a good job and I would rank her performance here to be as good as her turn as Mia in the Evil Dead reboot.
If the film hadn't gone down the rabbit hole and made me cringe, I would've enjoyed it much more. There are some filmmaking tactics that are brilliant in Don't Breathe, particularly the scene shot entirely in pitch black darkness. Claustrophobia is scary to pretty much everyone and this scene definitely brought that to mind as the Blind Man hunted them down in his basement. Most of the film was on par with that, but I just didn't like the attempted shock value they were going for.