“Don’t Breathe” Movie Review


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     The horror genre may very well be the most well stocked each year, with dozens of films coming out both in theaters and straight to video.  Because of this, and the disturbing trend of remaking the classics, horror films tend to recycle the same visuals, plot devices, and characters over and over, which tends to contribute to the notion that scary movies are a mostly tired and washed up category.  Once in a while though, a talented filmmaker will come up with something out of the ordinary and all together less predictable.  After making his feature debut with the 2013 “Evil Dead” remake, writer/director Fede Alvarez has successfully created something he can call his own with the horror/thriller “Don’t Breathe”, a home invasion story where the crooks get more than they bargained for.

     Every once in a while, a film like “Don’t Breathe” will seemingly come out of nowhere and make the studio tentpoles they compete against squirm in their money counting seats.  To do so, these low budget gems must bring something to the table that sets themselves apart from the standard slasher flick loaded down with the tropes common to the genre.  There needs to be a twist that sends the storyline down a more less traveled path, which doesn’t necessarily mean the film needs to be loaded with graphic gore or gratuitous sex scenes.  In recent memory, both M. Knight Shyamalan’s “The Visit” (2015) and this past summer’s “Green Room” gave us enough character development to make their respective conclusions all the more satisfying.  Alvarez, along with his co-screenwriter Rodo Sayagues (“Evil Dead”), is able to establish an interesting scenario that may even have the audience questioning which side they’re on and who they’re rooting for in the end.

     Early in the film, we meet three partners in crime who are currently spending their days breaking into homes and stealing valuables in order to support a planned move to California.  All three of them are the kind of despicable low lifes you would expect in this situation, but each has a different story.  Alex (Dylan Minnette) functions as the brains behind the operation since he is able to target homes whose security systems were installed by his father’s company.  With the code to each home’s alarm at his finger tips, he enlists the help of Rocky (Jane Levy), a childhood crush, and her scumbag boyfriend, Money (Daniel Zovatto), to burglarize homes without tripping the security system.  Rocky, who lives with a set of trashy parents and a younger sister, is motivated by the possibility of a better life.  And while Alex seems to be involved in order to impress Rocky, Money, whose appearance and persona might remind you of James Franco’s “Alien” character in “Spring Breakers” is dumber than a box of rocks and makes one wonder why Rocky is with him in the first place.  

     Through Alex’s research, the trio are presented with an opportunity to break into the home of an Iraq War veteran’s home, who recently lost his daughter to an accident and won a large settlement which they believe is hidden somewhere in the home in the form of cash.  The man lives in a dilapidated older neighborhood that doesn’t seem to see much in the way of police presence, so our three criminals see it as an easy score that will give them the money they need to leave town permanently.  As the crew makes their entry, Alvarez ensures we know the layout of the home and some of the important areas inside that may come into play later with a number of masterful shots indicating key details about their surroundings.  We meet a ferocious dog early on, but we also see a locked entrance to a basement, sky light windows in the kitchen, bars on the windows, and multiple locks on every door in addition to a home alarm system.  The interesting fact about all of this is that our victim to be is blind and said to have lost his eye sight after being hit by a grenade in Iraq.

     Playing the blind man is Stephan Lang (“Avatar”, “Tombstone”) in what becomes a very unique performance unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a horror film before, as he is partly a man defending his home, but also a man who might be willing to take things a bit too far.  Save to say, our burglars would have been better served to wait until he left home before attempting such a brazen crime.  What makes “Don’t Breathe” so special is the labyrinth of plot twists Alvarez cooks up that elevate the material well beyond the standard killer stalking teenagers trope that has been around since the 1970s.  Just when you think the story is limited to going in one particular direction, it suddenly changes course and becomes something else entirely, presenting a series of difficult scenarios for both sides all while trapped in a dark and well secured older home.  There are no doubt a number of plot holes and convenient coincidences that present themselves several times (each of which would require giving away too much), but the overall originality of the proceedings coupled with convincingly drawn characters and a polished feel to the production ensure the film remains several notches above the glut of overblown tentpoles we’ve been forced to sit through the last several months.  GRADE: B-