Genre: Horror, Thriller
Directed by: Fede Alvarez
Starring: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto
It’s not hard to fathom why the home invasion genre has become such a staple in movie going history. Transforming the once safe, stable environment of an ordinary house into a battleground between two opposing forces, home invasion stories always strike a nerve with audiences. If you can’t be safe in your own home, well, where can you be safe?
Don’t Breathe is the latest iteration on the formula, but this time it’s the home owner who’s the real villain, as three young thieves come up against a blind Iraq war veteran and his borderline rabid dog, both of whom prove far more ruthless and sadistic than they ought to be. Fede Alvarez’s follow up to his 2013 remake/reboot/rehash of Evil Dead is a stripped down genre exercise in cranked up tension, spine tingling sound design and a free flowing camera that seems to linger far too long on various instruments of terror, signposting its intentions from the get go.
Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) are three thieves who specialise in breaking into people’s homes secured by Alex’s father’s home security company. Rocky is hoping to raise enough money to move her and her younger sister out of their deadbeat mother’s trailer and to California. When Money gets a tip about a blind war veteran residing alone in a remote, near derelict area of Detroit, with over three hundred grand in cash locked away in a safe, it seems too good an opportunity to pass up. However, once our three thieves manage to break inside, they quickly discover that the blind veteran isn’t as helpless as he first appears, leading to twisted night of survival.There’s nothing in Don’t Breathe that is truly original per se, but what Alvarez and his crew have done is delivered a successful stripped down thriller, which features exemplary camerawork and brilliantly disquieting sound design. Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues come up with effective ways to keep our thieves trapped within the confines of the house in which they find themselves; one terrific greyed out sequence finds our terrorised thieves trapped in a pitch black basement with only four of their senses working for them. It’s a masterclass in nerve shredding tension, and throughout there were multiple times when I found myself clutching the arms of my seat far more than I expected to. Unlike Alvarez’s debut feature, which heavily relied on an overabundance of gore and grime, Don’t Breathe prefers to rely on sound; the creak of a floorboard, the vibrating of a phone etc. And for the most part, it works incredibly well.
It also helps that Stephen Lang, who plays the blind war vet, is a truly chilling on-screen presence. At first appearing as no more than a victim of circumstance, blighted by tragedy and economic standing, the film slowly reveals him to be far more sinister. Unfortunately, this becomes a detriment to the film as it quickly loses its way once it segues into torture porn territory in its latter stages. For some, this could be a problem, especially given how unsympathetic the central trio at first appear. But thankfully, Jane Levy and Dylan Minnette are affable screen presences and Levy’s motivations for seeing this thing through are strong enough for you to be rooting for her to the end.
Admittedly, there isn’t much substance to the film, but for what it does, it is incredibly compelling. It isn’t the groundbreaking horror/thriller that some critics have made it out to be, but it is effective enough to make Alvarez a talent to watch out for in genre cinema. Hopefully, he can now move on to more exciting prospects and give us something with a little more substance.