-A terrible third act hinders a very productive horror film that conjures up some of the best tension of 2016.
I feel like I’ve said this a lot this year, but it’s been hard for studios to show the restraint necessary to make a complete movie, recently. After treating us to some of the most suspenseful film-making of this calendar year, Don’t Breathe lands in a muddled climax that muddies up the pristinely directed first two acts. It’s a shame we can’t get through a horror movie without eventually delving into some cliches.
Directed by Fede Alvarez of the 2013 Evil Dead remake, Don’t Breathe is an exercise in the horror/thriller subgenre of “in home invasion.”
Now, say what you want about the aforementioned subgenre, but there have been successful outings of this genre in the past. Our home is our safe space, and there’s nothing quite like worrying that someone is in there that shouldn’t be. When thinking about movies that feature this plot device, you can right away point to classics like Panic Room, Scream, When a Stranger Calls, and In Cold Blood, but also a few, brutal modern films that pulled it off like Silent House or The Collector. It’s safe to say that Don’t Breathe makes it into the peak of this genre, perhaps in the top three to Scream and In Cold Blood.
Our protagonist is Rocky (Jane Levy), a Detroit girl who comes from a poor family (her mom is pretty trashy, honestly) and wants to rescue her sister and move to California. She’s been doing small-scale home robberies with her boyfriend (Daniel Zovatto) and her friend whose father creates home security systems (Dylan Minnette). With his knowledge and ability to shut down the alarms, the three friends are able to get some decent returns. All is going well until they plan to rob an army veteran (Stephen Lang) who lost his sight, and his daughter to a car accident. He may have the settlement money in a safe somewhere in the house.
Knowing this, the three start their process, only to find that maybe the old, blind veteran is much more resourceful than expected and the expedition for some extra cash becomes a fight for survival. I mean, would you want three obnoxious teens to invade your home and steal your money?
The strongest performance, by far, is the physicality of Lang, who essentially has nailed down all of the necessary motions and actions that “The Blind Man” must do. Rather than create opposition that’s impossible to beat, Alvarez makes a seemingly disabled character that isn’t originally taken seriously into a strong force against our characters that defies expectations, without defying logic.
While paying serious homage to Panic Room in terms of some of the cinematography and style, the film has a very unique feel with its impressive sound mixing and lighting. A few scenes not only look fantastic, done with a serious care for good thrills, but also are fully immersive in terms of their other qualities. This is a well crafted horror flick, through and through.
However, the final act really is a departure, and I won’t spoil the details, but just keep in mind that there’s a reason you root for our characters and not the Blind Man. We realize something is wrong about the situation, and I just felt that the direction his character is taken in is extreme overkill. Some torture elements at the end may be unsettling, but they are completely unneeded in terms of how the film played out. I would be fine with just keeping him as a normal guy defending his home, why should we root for the invaders?
Despite this last twenty minutes, it really is a well executed film, and one of my favorite suspense vehicles of recent memory. It’s worth seeing in theaters with other people, as well.
Don’t Breathe (2016)
Director: Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead)
Starring: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Stephen Lang, Daniel Zovatto
RT Score: 86%