Don't Breathe
Review by Brogen Hayes
4.0Breathlessly scary

DON’T BREATHE (USA/16/88mins)
Directed by Fede Alvarez. Starring Jane Levy, Dylan Minette,
Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang, Emma Bercovici.
THE PLOT: In the economic wasteland of Detroit, Money (Daniel Zovatto), Alex (Dylan Minette) and Rocky (Jane Levy) have found a way to make some cash, with the dream of getting out of the dying town; burglary. When what is to be their final job – robbing a six figure sum from a blind man in an abandoned part of town – becomes very complicated, the three soon find themselves fighting for their lives against an opponent with more than protecting himself on his mind.
THE VERDICT: The concept of stealing from a blind man is an inherently creepy one, and it is this that makes ‘Don’t Breathe’ a home invasion thriller with a twist. Although the finale of the film may go on just a little too long, ‘Don’t Breathe’ is watchable, dark and a whole lot of fun. It’s just not quite the horror flick it is billed as.
Jane Levy leads the cast as Rocky; a young woman with nothing to lose and everything to gain by getting away from her abusive mother and making a fresh start. Rocky is plucky and smart, and her tenacity in getting the job done is the backbone of the film. Dylan Minette plays Alex, a young kid whose father works for a home security company, and accidentally gives his son access to these homes by keeping the keys in their home. Minette has already proved he is good at running away from things in ‘Goosebumps’ earlier this year, and carries on his likeable fleeing skills in ‘Don’t Breathe’. Daniel Zovatto has a small role as a character named Money, whose brash behaviour starts all the trouble in the first place, and Stephen Lang dials up the creepy as the Blind Man whose house the kids invade.
Screenwriters Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues have created an intense and claustrophobic film that does not tell us a huge amount about the characters’ history, but gives us enough of a reason to root for them due to a secret the Blind Man is keeping in his cellar. Setting the film in a dying city adds a layer of creepiness, and although the secret that the Blind Man is keeping verges on the slightly ridiculous, it does up the stakes for all the characters, which is sort of the point. Alvarez and Sayagues keep their central cast guessing, and throw them from crisis to crisis as thy begin to realise how hard it is to get out of a house, and how strangely difficult it is to hide from a blind man.
As director, Fede Alvarez ramps up the tension in the film right from the beginning, as the kids get away with a seemingly difficult burglary, before moving onto one that should be easy as pie. The performances from the cast also help to up the ante, as he audience is on their side from the start – even when it is not quite clear if we should be – and their terror at how quickly things go bad is infectious. There are times when the film does feel rather laboured, and there is so much to-ing and fro-ing in the final moments of the film that it is easy to lose patience, but ‘Don’t Breathe’ is a smart and scary thriller, which creates all of its scares from a very simple, but effective premise. We could have just done with a few less instances of Chekov’s gun/hammer/harness though.
In all, ‘Don’t Breathe’ is a smart and claustrophobic thriller, with plenty of scares and some shocking twists. The film does run out of steam a little toward the end, but for the most part it is gripping, fearless and gleefully dark.
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Sony’s production outfit Screen Gems are not noted for making quality genre films. The Roommate was laughable nonsense. However, they seem to have hit the bullseye for once with Don’t Breathe. What ostensibly looks like a standard horror turns out to be full of surprises – and thereby becomes one of the best genre films of the year.

    Rocky (Jane Levy) is a young mother who wants to secure a better future for her daughter. Along with friend Alex (Dylan Minnette) and wild card Money (Daniel Zovatto), they regularly do a spot of breaking and entering. Money proposes a particular challenge to them: on an abandoned street, break into the house of a Blind Man (Stephen Lang) and steal his reputed €300,000 pay-out from a traffic accident that killed his daughter. The trio slip into the house unnoticed at first and apparently sedate him. That doesn’t last long though, as he wakes up and discovers their presence in the house. He’s not as helpless as he seems – he’s a Gulf War veteran with a particular set of skills. Soon the hunters become the hunted, as the Blind Man fights back and takes back his house. This will be a long, dangerous night…

    Fede Alvarez’s follow-up to his okay-ish Evil Dead remake is a step-up for the talented Uruguayan. For one, it’s an original story written by Alvarez and his co-writer Rodo Sayagues. Alvarez and Sayagues subvert genre expectations here to try something on a par with Pascal Laughier’s ferocious Martyrs. It’s best not to say too much about the plot, because it has surprising twists that are best discovered untouched. The characters are well-defined, far more than the usual, set-’em-up, knock-’em-down cardboard ones that are usually found in horror films. Using just one main location revealed in a superb opening tracking shot, the environment of this film is the everyday. Or so it seems.

    As the story progresses, character loyalties shift repeatedly. The Blind Man has every right to defend his home and his property, but there’s also an element to him that makes you uncertain as to whether you should sympathise with him. On the other hand, these burglars are just young, foolish and don’t want to hurt anyone. Not knowing who to root for in this battle of wills is one of the film’s strengths. It plays around with audience expectations in a way that is not manipulative, but is instead convincing. Many scenes had this reviewer on the edge of his seat, as even a character breathing might result in a sudden burst of violence. And then there’s THAT scene… which you can’t unsee afterwards. Lang is more of a presence for most of the film and his physicality makes up for the lack of a voice early on. It’s a strong performance and Levy, re-teaming with Alvarez after Evil Dead, also makes a good protagonist to play off.

    It’s safe to say that Alvarez has delivered a sleeper hit here. It’s tense, thrilling, tautly directed and has no false notes. Survival horror doesn’t have to involve supernatural creatures or the undead – it can just be people being horrible to each other in a confined environment. Don’t Breathe is a cracking film that deserves all the praise it can get. ****