Review: Don’t Breathe (2016)

Don’t Breathe (dir. Fede Álvarez, 2016) – Hoping to escape with a massive fortune, three teenagers break into the house of a blind man who is not as helpless as he seems.

Verdict

From start to near-end, Don’t Breathe proves a bloody intense experience that thrives on artfully-crafted tension.

4/5

Review

Three teenagers – Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), Money (Daniel Zovatto) – break into the home of a blind man, who had recently been awarded $300,000 for his daughter’s wrongful death. Thinking it an easy job was their first mistake.

While the break-in premise echoes the Audrey Hepburn vehicle Wait Until Dark, this is not your typical home invasion movie. In the vein of Wes Craven’s The People Under the StairsDon’t Breathe soon subverts expectations and turns the table on its initial perpetrators.

Robbing the impaired makes it difficult to think of them as hapless youths. Still, idiocy (arguably) hardly warrants a violent execution. Besides, these kids are not exactly the most seasoned criminals. Their naivety shows, every reckless move a genuine cause for worry. It seems only a matter of time before they give themselves away with a careless gasp or floorboard creak.

Photo: Screen Gems / Gordon A. Timpen
Don’t breathe… but shoot at doors, whisper loudly or whatever.

Stephen Lang’s victim-turned-aggressor thus comes as a formidable threat, despite his visual handicap. His penchant of violence intimidates, but it is his lingering presence that does the trick. A predator hardened by war, the army veteran effortlessly conveys real menace with little need for words.

The claustrophobic atmosphere adds to genuine dread. Previously responsible for the decent Evil Dead remake, director Fede Álvarez takes criticism to heart and focuses on a missing piece of his former work. This time, he eases on the gore and amps up suspense. His adept craftsmanship ensures that Don’t Breathe thrives on pure tension, even if far from bloodless.

Photo: Screen Gems / Gordon A. Timpen
“I have looked into their souls.”

Simplicity triumphs. Sadly, this does not last. Some contrived and absurd twists threaten to unravel the careful set-up. Pacing suffers as a result. When potential escape routes continually turn into dead ends, what seemed dreadful quickly becomes dreary.

Multiple false endings deeply frustrate, especially since Álvarez is clearly capable of doing more with less. But his final disturbing revelation does make plain his aversion to the conventional, which fires us up aplenty for his future original efforts.

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