With a week to go until Halloween, ‘tis the season for scary movies. You could do far worse than catch Don’t Breathe, one of this year’s biggest sleeper hits, winning over critics and cinemagoers alike. This horror thriller keeps things simple and focused, and those are its greatest strengths. Combined with some genuine twists – well, as long as you haven’t seen the trailer – it’s highly effective at hauling you, hyperventilating, to the edge of your seat.
Just as in last year’s surprise horror smash It Follows, Don’t Breathe chooses Detroit urban destitution for its backdrop. Rocky (Jane Levy), her douche boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) and nice guy Alex (Dylan Minnette) are three young people desperate to escape the hopelessness of their situations. Rocky, in particular, wants to head to California and start a new life with her young daughter. So the trio start robbing houses. It’s never enough money though… until they receive word that a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) is hiding a fortune in his home. It seems like a sure thing, but the situation quickly unravels on the night of the break-in.
Don’t Breathe comes from writer-director Fede Alvarez, the man responsible for 2013’s surprisingly enjoyable Evil Dead remake. That movie showed that Alvarez has a strong grasp of how to wriggle under viewers’ skin. His latest is the same, although it uses a very different toolset.
Evil Dead, for example, centred on the supernatural, and dialled up the gore over its running time. It never once attempted to be restrained; it wasn’t that kind of movie. In Don’t Breathe, the horror is very much human, and though the film skirts torture porn territory in a couple of key scenes (you’ll know them when you see them), it doesn’t encourage you to relish the carnage. It also doesn’t resort to silly jump scares. The tension here stems from Alvarez’s masterful use of silence, darkness and the repeating concept of cat-and-mouse pursuit in a confined, unfamiliar space.
In addition, nobody has slasher baddie invulnerability – even though Lang’s physically intimidating Blind Man, with his milky eyes and ragged, rarely used voice, could easily fit the bill.
It’s important to note that in this home invasion thriller, your sympathies dance around between the young thieves and their disabled target. It’s just one of the many continual surprises that Don’t Breathe offers. Just as you think you have a grasp of where the plot is going, there’s a new twist, or new element introduced.
This said, it’s probably better to watch Don’t Breathe, erm, blind. Although the film’s trailers have done an excellent job drawing people to the cinema, they have also spoiled some of the biggest reveals. I would likely have rated Don’t Breathe a half-star higher if I knew less about what was coming.
Some critics have complained that Don’t Breathe becomes sillier towards the end. While it’s true the climax starts to strain credibility, the film manages to hold together until the final credits. Don’t Breathe still feels stripped down and “real.” And earlier unsettling content ensures you won’t forget it in a hurry.
Last Updated: October 24, 2016