I’m just going to put it right out there: 2016 is turning into a surprisingly good year for horror-movie fans. We’ve already been given significantly-above-average fare this calendar year like ‘The Witch,’ ‘Green Room,’ ‘Neon Demon,’ ’10 Cloverfield Lane,’ and ‘The Shallows.’ Heck, even ‘The Conjuring 2‘ and ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies‘ were not without their charms. And with a new ‘Blair Witch‘ film and the sci-fi thriller ‘Morgan’ both getting positive buzz prior to their releases this Fall… well, it’s a good time to enjoy being scared at the movies.
And now, here in the waning weeks of Summer before Fall swoops in and officially makes us all think about the thrills and chills of Halloweentime, comes ‘Don’t Breathe,’ a psychological thriller that hits all the right notes. Directed by Fede Alvarez and co-written by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, the duo don’t need to prove they have the chops to make a great horror flick – these are the guys behind the 2013 remake of ‘Evil Dead,’ along with Sam Raimi (who also serves as a producer for this film, too), so you already know they’ve got the right stuff.
The plot starts out straightforward enough, before taking the audience on a twisty-turn-y journey where you’re never quite sure who you’re rooting for: it’s either the trio of young adults from hard-knocks Detroit who are trying to scrape out better lives for themselves by stealing from others, or the blind military veteran whose home they are invading and who still has more than enough fight left in him, along with some deeper and darker secrets that will leave an audience’s perspective on him drastically changed at the end of the film from where it was at the beginning.
It’s clear that the three robbers aren’t necessarily professionals at the whole breaking-and-entering bit; even in an early scene showing them successfully burgling a very fancy home, you can tell they are all doing their best to simply pull it off, even if the script of the film detours into somewhat generic territory for their character traits: you’ve got “Money” (Daniel Zovatto), the overconfident “thug life” bad boy who’s just asking for bad stuff to happen to him; Rocky (Jane Levy), his sweet-but-also-totally-hard-knocks girlfriend; and pseudo-nerdy Alex (Dylan Minnette), the quiet type who likes Rocky but is too shy to do anything about it.
When given the opportunity to make a big-money score by robbing “The Blind Man” (Steven Lang, and that’s truly the only name he is credited as) who keeps a sizable stash of cash in his dilapidated inner-city home, they all reluctantly agree to take the job; Money and Rocky want to move somewhere and start a better life, and Alex wants to do it simply to help Rocky, who has a pretty rough home life with an abusive mother. Once they successfully get into The Blind Man’s home, however, they get much more than they bargained for, and the quickly find themselves trapped in the home while the ex-military man defends himself and his property with the surprisingly-acute remaining senses he has.
The biggest thing that I found myself mentally fighting with was the fact that yes, the trio make individual and collective dumb mistakes and poor choices once things start to go sideways… but these are, relatively speaking, dumb kids, not professional heist-makers. It’s in their character to make bad decisions – hence the reason why they are even in this situation in the first place. As for The Blind Man, the key to believing many of his scenes is to be cognizant of the fact that he is clearly well in control of his mental faculties; if you classify him as a frail old man who’s given up on life, then you will definitely be in disbelief of some of the things you’ll see him do, including his first “escape” of the trio’s attempt to subdue him while they rob his house. The film tries to drop hints about this, briefly referencing the fact that he was blinded by a form of shrapnel injury sustained in the Gulf War – he has been discharged from the military by circumstance, not due to ineffectiveness on his part. This is important to understand as the film progresses.
The final 30-45 minutes ratchets up the action to fairly insane degrees, throwing plot twists and uncomfortable situations at an audience who largely never saw this stuff coming. Credit Alvarez and Sayagues for not being content to simply rely on suspense/horror tropes we’ve all seen before. While you may find yourself thinking about a few blips in believability or rationality here or there, on the whole ‘Don’t Breathe’ is going to keep you gripping tightly to your armrest and afraid to munch your popcorn for fear that you’re being louder than the extended uncomfortably silent scenes in The Blind Man’s house. This film is intense as Hell – and that’s just the way we like it.
Tony Schaab is bad, and that’s good. He will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one he’d rather be than he! A lover of most things sci-fi and horror, Tony is an author by day and a DJ by night. Come hang out with Tony on Facebook and Twitter to hear him spew semi-funny nonsense and get your opportunity to finally put him in his place.