When some petty thieves decided to rob the house of a disabled and blind Iraq war veteran they get more than they bargained for. Locked inside the house with no weapons and a trained killer on the loose, survival is hardly guaranteed.
August 27, 2016 (U.S. Theatrical)
Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Stephen Lang as The Blind Man
Jane Levy as Rocky
Dylan Minnette as Alex
Daniel Zovatto as Money
If you’re interested in a horror movie where the bag guys are made into the sympathetic characters that the audience roots for and the villain is actually an innocent thrust into the bad guy role. Well, then you are definitely interested in Don’t Breathe. There are some more draws to this one as well. For those who liked the Evil Dead remake of 2013, Don’t Breathe is a bit of an “old home week” for several members of that feature, including Sam Raimi producing, Fede Alvarez directing, and Jane Levy as the female lead Rocky who played Mia in Evil Dead. The chemistry of the film definitely works due to the cast and direction relationship, even when other elements do not.
The story surrounds Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money )Daaniel Zovatto) as some down and out petty thieves in blight-stricken Detroit Michigan. Rocky is the tragic figure with a young daughter and a mother who locked her in the trunk when she cried too much, Alex is the “thinking man’s criminal” who takes advantage of his father’s position with a home security company to gain access to homes to burgle, and Money is a typical gang-type character happy to cause mischief and break things in rich people’s houses. When Money gets word of a potential big score, the run down home of a blind Iraq War Veteran with a bunch of cash on hand, the trio decide that they are in for one more heist to gain the money to leave Detroit forever. Unfortunately for them, the occupant of the house on the burglary agenda is not likely to cooperate with the plan.
Don’t Breathe has some things going for it for sure. The cinematography is stunning, and the camera angles and shots are artfully done and add to the flavor of the film as one with a budget potentially higher than it actually has. The music is strong as well, with a sound track that adds to the mood and furthers the emotional ride. As mentioned before, the chemistry between performers is also strong, and it is clear that this chemistry extends beyond those on the screen as all interactions are completely natural and the dialogue feels genuine between people that seem to actually know and care about each other. Individual performances are very good too, as each participant in the story effectively pulls it off.
But… Don’t Breathe has some significant detractors as well. For one thing, and this is coming from one who enjoys “slow burn” and a lot of time spent developing characters and back story in the beginning… damn it took forever for anything to happen in this film! Sometimes “slow burn” is a code word for “boring because nothings happening”, and this could be considered one of those times. It didn’t bother me a ton, but again I don’t mind that kind of thing. In those circumstances where I notice it, however, are usually the same circumstances where other more normal audience members have started to check out. The last 20 minutes was really fast moving and great, for those who need that sort of thing.
Another detractor is how badly Mr. Alvarez and others involved in the writing of the screenplay wanted to make their political and social justice statements. So… lots of horror can tend to make social and political commentary. Heck, zombie movies are all about that, income inequality, evil governments, etc. etc. We don’t worry about any of that, because it is just part of the game and it works. Sometimes, though, you get people who decide that through their movie they are going to make a DIFFERENCE. Making movies and being pretty becomes unsatisfying, and they decide that they are going to use their “platform” to enact social change. Just ask poor ole’ Matt Damon about this one… the day he decided that he is no longer an actor and script writer and instead some kind of holy grail of social causes from politics to fracking is the last Matt Damon movie I watched, and that was a long time ago. Maybe 2008 or so. Anyway, it would appear that Fede Alvarez suffers from the same affliction of self-importance and desire to exert his will upon the masses. The first painfully obvious indication that Alverez is up to something is the stupid Nazi symbol tattoo on the arm of Rocky’s trailer park drunk mother’s boyfriend. Just a stupid attempt to use an obvious symbol to call out attention, and it was just that… stupid. It was also odd that although the population of Detroit MI is almost 85% black, all of the losers in the film were white. Loserish white people is fine of course… losers obviously exist in all varieties, but what is the likelihood that in Detroit we wouldn’t see a single black person? Zero, that’s what.
Now beyond those silly elements mentioned we got to see people driven to crime through no fault of their own, women being treated as lesser beings and needing to liberate, war veterans coming home and becoming crazy killers, a broken criminal justice system, etc. etc… so many “hot buttons” of our political and social narrative in 2016. Really, just like the “slow burn”… it’s fine to do that, but once the audience really starts to notice it, you’ve gone too far and lost your way.
When I wasn’t annoyed by Don’t Breathe I really liked it though, really. I was entertained, and there were a good number of jump scares that actually got me. Cheap shots, but fun nonetheless. Immediately coming out of the theater I actually had the feeling that I really liked the film a lot. Then upon walking back to the truck I liked it just a tad bit less… too much thinking. The moral of the story, think less, enjoy more.
Don’t Breathe is a well-made film, with an interesting storyline and some good plays on the typical roles of hero and villain. The film would have been much better, however, if the filmmakers would have picked things up a little in the first half, and cut about 80% of their pet social causes out of the script. Hopefully they will read this review and have an epiphany, exclaiming, “that guy is right! By trying to cram everything down my audience’s throat I don’t achieve my goal of mass manipulation at all!” But they likely won’t. Well maybe they’ll read it… no epiphany.
Still, Don’t Breathe can be safely watched and enjoyed, and you really should. There’s not a lot of good stuff in the theaters right now. Sausage Party? Gimme a break.
Don't Breathe is beautifully made, and the chemistry between performers and with the director is stunningly effective. This film also takes the traditional concepts of hero and villain and turns them on their ear... more than once. Well done.
The first half of the film is a little slow, which may be an issue for some viewers. The level of political and social cause references and PC influences is particularly high in this film as well, which crosses the line to "mildly annoying".