Director - Fede Alvarez
Cast - Jane Levy, Dylan Minette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang
Rating - 4/5
Rare is the film that grips you from the very first shot, but that’s exactly what Don’t Breathe does. There was blood. There was a body. There was a monster.
And no one was breathing.
Don’t Breathe, the new film by Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez is a beast of a movie – it’s tight, relentlessly thrilling, fiendishly clever, and for its audience, it’s one of the most satisfying films of the year.
The plot can only get you so far in films like this, so it helps that Don’t Breathe is a stunner. Everything from the enticing premise to the pitch perfect execution – there isn’t much wrong with this movie - and God does it feel good to say that.
Speaking of the premise, I advise you to watch this movie cold. The less you know about it the better. In fact, if you’re overly finicky about even the slightest spoilers, wait till you’ve seen the movie before reading on. Not that there are going to be spoilers, but sometimes, simply knowing that there is going to be a twist is distracting enough.
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But for those of you who don’t mind an extra detail or two, here’s a brief tease of the set up: Three young thieves get tipped off about a big score. Their mark is an army vet with close to $300,000 in cash hidden somewhere in his house, where he happens to live alone. Also, he’s blind. Like stealing candy from a baby, right?
Wrong. So very, very wrong.
Very soon after they break in, they begin to lose control of the situation. The mark (a menacing Stephen Lang), it is revealed, is an unstoppable force of nature. He is like a Lion ruling his domain. He sniffs them out, he stalks them. He locks them in his lair, and then, when they are trapped, he hunts them.
And all this while, no one was breathing.
At just two films old – and especially with this one – Fede Alvarez is showing signs of greatness. Not only is he a terrific genre filmmaker, he is a terrific filmmaker, period. He plays the audience like a fiddle. If someone were to take the time, I’m sure they would find that this film is paced with such scientific precision that it almost makes it seem as if Alvarez is controlling his audience from behind one of those control panels from The Cabin in the Woods.
It is possibly too early to tell, but if there is one bad habit that Fede Alvarez keeps defaulting to, it’s gore. His first film, the remake of Sam Raimi’s cult classic Evil Dead was eye-gougingly gruesome, but it was all warranted. In Don’t Breathe, Alvarez creates an atmosphere. He builds suspense, which, in my opinion, is always the way to go. But he always relieves tension with an act of violence. Yes, there are jump scares, but not the idiotic kind. He even finds time for social commentary. Don’t Breathe works just as well as as a chronicle of a decaying city: Detroit.
This isn’t just any old home invasion thriller, even though it owes a great debt to classics like The Last House on the Left, Straw Dogs or Panic Room. It takes the conventions of the genre and doesn’t so much flip them on their head as it shoots them in the face. Point blank. It understands the limitations of the genre and works wonders within them.
Aside from just a handful of films like The Purge, You’re Next and Knock Knock, the home invasion thriller is a dying subgenre of ‘horror’ films. But Don’t Breathe – ahem – breathes new life into it.
Every moment is earned. How often do you find yourself screaming at the screen while watching a horror movie, in disbelief at the characters’ stupidity? But here, it all makes sense. For there to even be a movie, the trio of thieves must be kept confined within the playground, and in a pleasant surprise, there isn’t a single decision they make here that you wouldn’t make yourself – which is incredibly refreshing after watching dozens of those dumb blondes who go down to the basement all alone while a killer is on the loose.
And quickly, before we wrap up, just one more thing. About midway through the film, a certain plot development happens that significantly alters the movie. Be warned, what follows is so gleefully twisted, it might take the best of you by surprise. It was nasty, deranged and very violent. There was blood. There was a body. There was a monster.
And I promise you, no one was breathing.