Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Terror, Violence, Disturbing Content, and Language including Sexual References
Directed by: Fede Alvarez
Written by: Fede Alvarez & Rodo Sayagues
Starring: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto & Stephen Lang
2016’s summer movie season comes to a close with Fede Alvarez’s DON’T BREATHE. Though he’s only directed one other feature film (2013’s entertaining remake of EVIL DEAD), Alvarez is quickly proving himself to be an exciting new voice in horror. DON’T BREATHE follows an ingeniously simple premise. This unconventional home-invasion chiller is further boosted by genuine frights and suffocating tension that never lets up for a single second. There are a couple of minor stumbles in believability, but DON’T BREATHE is easily one of the best horror films to grace the big screen in 2016!
Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto) are three teenage hooligans who make their living through frequent burglaries. Each job is carefully planned and executed, though Rocky eventually hopes to raise enough money to move to California with her younger sister. Opportunity knocks in the form of a seemingly too-good-to-be-true break-in that promises 300 thousand in cash and an easy target, a lonely blind man (Stephen Lang). The trio of thieves break into the house without a hitch, but find themselves stuck in a living nightmare when it turns out that the blind guy is much more adept and capable of defending his home than they expected. Their break-in soon becomes a desperate survival mission to break-out.
DON’T BREATHE milks a simple premise for everything that it’s worth. Ingenious set pieces and unexpected plot twists are laden throughout. There were many points in this film where I had no idea what was going to happen next, all I knew was that it wasn’t going to be pleasant. This horror flick doesn’t only rely on violence and jump scares, but also becomes a masterful exercise in suspense and intense build-up. Many quiet sequences had myself (and the theater audience) so on edge that you could hear a pin drop. Certain moments, with characters being mere feet or inches away from the blind man, are hair-raising beyond belief.
Besides being scary and delivering relentless tension, DON’T BREATHE is also impressively well-made. The cinematography is slick and the camera does a lot of tricks early on where it pans through the man’s house, giving us brief clues at what items or areas may come into play later on. DON’T BREATHE never gets particularly gory, but does have its violent moments. There’s a believable vibe to the bloody scenes and it never feels like the movie goes too far out of the realm of reality. That being said, there are a couple of scenes where you do have to suspend your disbelief a little bit. The blind guy is occasionally too on-point and one sequence in a vent threatened to become far-fetched.
As you might guess from the plot description, there aren’t any “good” protagonists in this film. It’s a story of three bad people running into a guy trying to defend his home. Your wavering loyalties may shift as certain scenes play out. Jane Levy is proving herself to be a modern scream-queen with her performance as Rocky (alongside her memorable role in EVIL DEAD). Rocky’s backstory is understandable enough, even if her actions are inexcusable. Dylan Minnette goes from starring in kid-friendly horror (HAUNTING HOUR episodes, GOOSEBUMPS) to intense R-rated material and does well enough as Alex. Daniel Zovatto makes the most of Money, a one-dimensional thug.
The film’s big stand-out is Stephen Lang as the blind man. A little backstory is given about Lang’s nameless character before the trio break into his home. I felt like I’d be rooting for the blind guy the entire time, but other disturbing details come to light (one of which has been revealed in the trailer, but doesn’t spoil the entire film). Lang is equal parts terrifying and sympathetic. He’s a fearsome beast to be reckoned with and one of the scariest characters to grace a horror film in a long time!
DON’T BREATHE is a cinematic nightmare that had me squirming in my seat and then sitting on the edge of it, only to shift back and start squirming again. The tension never lets up and not a single frame is wasted. The visuals are beautifully shot and the scares are brilliantly executed. The writing is smart and cleverly milks the maximum amount of chills out of hair-raising scenarios, even if a couple of moments border on becoming too far-fetched. I loved this movie and can safely say that it lives up to its title for 88 thrilling minutes.