The things that scare us are often the simplest of things: A creak in an empty house, the dark, isolation, the fear of someone violating our safe places all unnerve us. The movies that scare us however rarely rely on those most ordinary of things rather relying on the supernatural or the truly diabolical evils of the human heart. Don’t Breathe falls firmly within the category of ”ordinary” thrillers and I don’t mean that as a negative just that there isn’t a ghost in site and that is a good thing. It is thick with atmosphere, thrill and a sense of torturous fun. Find out how it achieves that all in our review.
Don’t Breathe offers up a fairly direct story in that a group of intruders are all about to set themselves up for life (financially speaking) with the job of a lifetime. A blind man living alone, in an isolated neighbourhood and with a rather large stash of money. This blind man isn’t quite as helpless as first, thought, an ex-vet he soon turns the tables on his would-be perpetrators.
Even the briefest of plot synopsis doesn’t prepare you for the clever yet uncomplicated story that Don’t Breathe offers up. It’s a film that has twists and turns and doesn’t simply put bad guys in one corner and good in the other. It blurs lines of morality without lecturing us about them either. It’s not trying to make a point about the grander world but get you to be involved in the life of strangers for a night. You”re meant to be there in the house and be terrified in it. The film succeeds completely on that level.
It’s not a story though why you come to see Don’t Breathe but it’s important not to view the film simply as something simply designed to scare you. It’s tense but doesn’t feel like there are a plethora of jump scares, Scares build up yes but the pay-off not always feels cheap. It’s a tease without being annoyingly so. But however, you experience the fear whether you jump or whether you destroy a chair’s armrest you definitely will feel something.
It’s also about the building sense of dread rather than what could be possibly lurking around the corner in the dark. Noises, creaks of a floor board, the sound of your breath, the smell of a person and that sense of being trapped behind a locked door are all the things that haunt our intruders and us as the audience.
It’s all part of a wonderful technical wheelhouse that director Fede Alvarez uses to make us feel immersed. As I’ve mentioned the house feels claustrophobic, creaky and isolated. But It’s fascinating how well the house is set up with sweeping camera shots. You know the confines, the rooms, the exits and more. It might be something reminiscent of a Hitchcock establishing shot. Yet even knowing the house changes when it falls into complete darkness. A wonderful scene in the basement is shot in pitch black not the artificial darkness of many sets. It’s crammed with shelves of tools and nick knacks making it a chaotic maze and when the lights come on there is one great twist but not before the intruder fumble their way through the madness.
Don’t Breathe is not really a movie about characters or its actor. You will be hard pressed to remember names or even to know a cast of unknown more than a passing reminder of I think I’ve seen them before. The intruders Rocky, Alex and Money have simple motivations and that helps the film at least be plausible, especially when they could leave and temptation keeps them there.
While no actor on the intruder stands out, the Blind Man (that’s what the credits calls him) played by Stephen Lang is a delight in a thriller sense. He barely speaks, yet misery and torture weigh down on him. It’s clear in the way he lives, the way he walks and the callous brutality. This house is his domain, a place where he felt safe and where secrets lie in weight. The house may make our intruders feel trapped, he makes it a trap and a terrifying one at that.
The film despite such a strong showing is not perfect and some of the timing of events in the last third make its conclusion feel a little bit weak. It’s a question of plausibility for a film that spends a lot of time reveling in its believability. How does someone do something after a certain injury or in such a timely fashion? You will notice it and it will let a bit frustration slip in.
There are also some twists that feel more designed for shock and while one does involve an enjoyably disturbing scene involving a turkey baster it feels like it belongs to a different film. A horror film, not so much the thriller.
Don’t Breathe Review Cheat Sheet
Overall Don’t Breathe is a delightful thriller. Shifting expectations with bad guys and taking a simple environment such as a house and making tension out of its simplest elements. Stephen Lang menaces throughout and while implausibility and shock distract. this is a tense movie for those who like to be scared without feeling dumb at the same time.
+ Lots of tension that builds throughout.
+ Simple story with lots of twists.
+ Technical elements make the house feel like a character.
+ Stephen Lang nails the character of The Blind Man perfectly.
– Some horror twists feel out of place.
– Plausibility is stretched in the final act.