Don’t Breathe is the second film this year that finds an evenhanded combination of thrills and disgust, pairing them together to great effect (the other is the terrific Green Room, which you should seek out if you haven’t seen it).
It’s sad that the current state of modern horror filmmaking is one of a thankless genre. Most depend on the flickering lights or the bedroom door that moves on its own to generate suspense, which is usually done to no avail. Director Fede Alvarez (who last rebooted Evil Dead) doesn’t hold back from trying to shock you any way he can but he’s mostly effective in his conquest.
The film focuses on three friends, who have a full-time job robbing houses. Rocky (Jane Levy) robs with a specific purpose in mind, while her friend Alex (Dylan Minnette) goes along because he has feelings for Rocky. The trio is completed with Rocky’s boyfriend, Money (Daniel Zovatto), a cornrow-clad punk who swaggers with the confidence of Danny Ocean; he’s just missing the charm and aptitude.
The group – like most morally conflicted thieves – have a code of ethics, where they take possessions under a certain amount but never money. All of that changes when a big score surfaces. They find out that a retired Army veteran is sitting on a settlement of $300,000. The man lives alone and is blind, so they aren’t even going to bother to wait for him to leave his house because it should all be a piece of cake.
Turns out, it isn’t and the $300,000 is much harder to get to than they had hoped. The Blind Man (Stephen Lang) is smarter than these three combined and because this is a Hollywood film, he doesn’t need his eyesight to inflict terror upon them. What ensues is a game of cat-and-mouse in a grim house that the Blind Man (I swear, this is what he is credited as) has managed to trap his burglars in.
The basic plot may seem a little shopworn but Alvarez consistently ratchets up the tension with every scene. Things get bloody, as you would expect, but rarely does it feel contrived for the sake of showing blood. There are twists and turns within the night in the house, each surprising, and one fallen off the edge to the side of repulsive.
Minnette and Levy, in particular, carry the film as strong young actors. Their angst, ennui and desperation all feel believable and authentic. Their uneven relationship feels lived-in, never forced in as a plot tactic. The character of Money is as often on-the-nose and his name. He’s a caricature with no real weight in the film. Lang makes for a threatening antagonist, mostly evoking chills through action and not words.
It’s unfortunate that good horror and thriller films are such a rarity in today’s world because it’s seemingly hard to come up with anything new or fresh. Don’t Breathe never attempts to reinvent the wheel but will more than satisfy your thrill-seeking cravings.
8 out of 10