We’re all the same in the dark.
Director Fede Alvarez hit the film industry scene hard in 2013 when he released his debut film Evil Dead, a remake blessed by Sam Raimi and inspired by his horror classic of the same name. With Evil Dead’s graphic success, Alvarez seeks to continue his knack for creating the horrific in his new thriller, Don’t Breathe. The question remains: will Alvarez soar with his silent killer, or will he struggle in his sophomore film?
The premise of Don’t Breathe is really what intrigued me into seeing the film. I don’t often spend my hard earned money on going to theater; the price of tickets has exponentially risen in the past ten years. Alvarez’s Evil Dead earned him my interest, but Don’t Breathe won my patronage. So what is the film about? Don’t Breathe stars Jane Levy, a young girl looking to take her little sister out of the decrepit streets of Detroit. In order to do so, she and her bro-riffic boyfriend, Money (Daniel Zovatto), burglarize houses with the help of their friend, Alex (Dylan Minnette), whose father holds the passcodes to security systems of his clients.
After robbing a wealthy home that yielded a small cash return, Money is informed of a house in the middle of a ghost town, owned by an army veteran (Stephen Lang) who held over $300,000 in cash. A wealthy girl killed the man’s daughter in a car accident, and her family allegedly settled with a large sum of cash – or so the story went. Upon reconnaissance, the trio learns that the veteran is actually an old, blind man, perhaps wounded from his tour of duty in Iraq. Alex asks the moral question: “Isn’t it kind of messed up to rob a blind guy?” And the question lingers for a moment before Money and, even, Rocky (Levy) decide to go through with the gig anyway. Alex requires a little more convincing, but due to his secret(ish) love of Rocky, he finally relents and tags along.
Breaking into the blind man’s house proves difficult, however. The three find his front door triple dead bolted, and Alex realizes that the blind man never returned two of the three keys to his father. Still, Rocky is able to sneak through a bathroom window and tiptoe through the house to unlock the side door (after peacefully tranquilizing the blind man’s ferocious dog). The three remove their shoes at the entrance (in order to muffle the sounds of their feet, I guess) and venture through the old house, searching for where the blind man keeps his cash. Money finds a door with a lock upon it, and, brilliantly, shoots the lock, alerting the blind man. Unfortunately for Money and his crew, the blind man proves to be a powerful adversary.
From the moment the blind man discovers the burglars, Don’t Breathe is a clinic in suspense thriller films. Alvarez’s camera work is some of the best I’ve ever seen. There’s a moment when the blind man powers off the lights, and the cameras take on a night vision view. The characters move in and out of sight, coming within inches of each other. Each moment is filled with intensity and dread due solely to the excellent camera work. To compliment the slick filming, Alvarez concocts an excellent sound design. Playing on the idea of the blind man’s disability and his insane auditory skills, each step, breath, and creak plays a large role in the exposition. When combined, the camera work and sound direction creates the memorable experience more than any segment of plot.
And plot is certainly Don’t Breathe’s biggest adversary. While the premise of a botched home invasion of a blind man who, with unnatural abilities and solid military experience, fights back is pretty solid, the actual execution of the story, along with its surprising twist is secondary to the suspense. In fact, I felt the film relied too much on the false mythos that a person’s other senses become heightened upon losing one. The blind man’s abilities don’t align with his frailty. His strength is almost otherworldy, especially when you see him struggle down a set of stairs. His accuracy with a gun is impeccable, and his penchant for finding lost items is laughable. For example, the blind man somehow finds a revolver that was flung out of his hands and into a pile of tools (and then reloaded it with ammo he never had in a matter of seconds). I understand that, without making the blind man incredible, the movie wouldn’t hold nearly as much suspense as Alvarez intended – perhaps. But I believe that Alvarez’s camera and sound work create such an intense atmosphere that he could have succeeded without hyperbolizing his characters.
The last piece of Don’t Breathe that I want to touch upon without spoilers is its twist. I read, and I’m sure anyone researching the film will have read, multiple critical examinations and distasteful critiques of the twist near the midpoint of Don’t Breathe. I disagree with most of these critiques; from what I’ve read, most reviewers criticizing the twist do so because they believe their opinion of how the scene should have gone was the correct and only way to do the scene. They believe Alvarez attempted to ‘say’ something but wasn’t smart enough to do so. My question and answer is this: Why can’t the blind man just be a crazy one?
Looking back at Don’t Breathe, I haven’t decided yet if I fully enjoyed the experience. The camera and sound work still inspires me with its incredible execution. The plot and unbelievable/exaggerated characters, however, left me desiring a bit more. Even the plot twist and brutality of the film falls in the mediocre range. Don’t Breathe is a movie that I’d recommend for technical purposes alone because the remainder of the film doesn’t make logical sense to me. And while I know that horror films often require the suspending of belief, a film attempting to steep itself in the realism of a botched home invasion requires a certain believability – in plot and realism, if not the characters. Don’t Breathe will treat you to an adrenaline filled experience but will most likely leave you searching for more.