REVIEW: Don’t Breathe [2016]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: R | Runtime: 88 minutes | Release Date: August 26th, 2016 (USA)
Studio: Screen Gems / Sony Pictures Releasing
Director(s): Fede Alvarez
Writer(s): Fede Alvarez & Rodo Sayagues

“If we do this right we never have to do this again”

The best thing you can do to distance yourself from the big budget remake of a cult classic that serves as your feature directorial debut is to pare things down and deliver an original gem of your own. Fede Alvarez took the criticisms of his Evil Dead—gore for gore sake (something many of its proponents surely use to also explain its greatness)—and decided to utilize them during the writing process on Don’t Breathe. The supernatural aspect is gone and to an extent the straight horror trappings as well. His sophomore effort is definitely a suspense thriller before anything else with a consistent intensity from start to finish. Pair this one with Green Room as a double-bill and you won’t find a single fingernail intact upon completion.

Alvarez (and cowriter Rodo Sayagues) throws us into the fire with about eight minutes of prologue to provide all the information we’ll need. Rocky (Jane Levy) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) endure hard lives scrapping together cash by robbing clients of their friend Alex’s (Dylan Minnette) father’s security company. Alex is the brains of this operation, keenly attuned to what they can and can’t do to limit jail time should they be caught and more-or-less willing to do anything for Rocky courtesy of his obvious unrequited love. With things unfortunately getting worse for her on the home front, however, their timetable to leave for California has been accelerated. Rather than continue stealing property to fence and lose forty percent, the moment for a big cash score has arrived.

Enter a shut-in, Vietnam War veteran blinded by a grenade during combat (Stephen Lang) and the purported six-figures in cash paid to him by the wealthy family of a young girl who killed his daughter. The plan is simple: drug the malicious guard dog, deactivate the alarm system, chloroform bomb the homeowner, and find the money. Simple. It shouldn’t take more than a couple hours before the trio is free and clear to say goodbye to Detroit and the lives of squalor that have kept them down for too long. What they didn’t count on, though, was their victim proving to be anything but. Blind or not, his darkened abode supplies home-field advantage and his military skills the confidence and knowhow to bring the fight to them.

What follows is an expertly drawn cat and mouse chase for survival as Lang feigns helplessness to take their gun and turn the tables. He knows every square inch of his home, every room the camera slowly pans through to show hatchet on the tool bench and gun under the bed. Lang reaches out to tap location markers even though he’s practically running: two-by-four here means turn right and shelf here means veer left. For an extended period he even cuts the power so Alvarez can bring up a night vision aesthetic of monotone haze and giant pupils of fear, the teens extending their hands for orientation while Lang waits with ears perked and nose sniffing. He knows why they’re here and he’s ready to kill them all.

Just because the cash is the obvious discovery, however, doesn’t mean there aren’t more secrets to this lone inhabited house on a block of foreclosed properties long-since empty. The truth of what this recluse has been doing the past couple years is revealed in short fashion, the economy of plot tightly effective. The reality may be a lot to take in, but it’s hardly beyond our belief in his capabilities. Alvarez’s story proves as dark as the unlit hallways traversed and Lang is up to the task of becoming a monster born from grief. When he hits Money, Rocky, and Alex he does so with vicious intent. A formidable physical weapon against three desperate kids, anyone making it out alive will be bruised, battered, and broken.

Kudos to Sony and the filmmakers for hiding a lot from the trailers—they deliver premise and leave the details to the movie itself. It’s not quite the silent experience I anticipated as Rocky and Alex often engage in brief conversations or become trapped on the same level to yell each other’s name through the void, but Alvarez picks a few extended stretches to cut the score and let the heavy breathing amplify our dread. The addition of the dog is a brilliant move for an alternative mode of terror when Lang’s character is at a disadvantage and the fact that Alex comes prepared with keys, codes, and security toys from his father provides the writers various avenues in which to threaten or refute getting the police involved.

There are plenty of moving parts inhabiting this stripped-bare concept to ensure lulls are non-existent. The teens remain hidden only so long as Lang pops up to flush them out. Locks are everywhere, potential weapons rest in shadows, and an unknown horror renders outside interference into mutually assured destruction. This quartet (and canine) is isolated together with hearts pounding, blood boiling, and emotions high. Camera angles hide truths as padlocks protect surprises so each pivot in vantage reveals a fresh disaster. Don’t Breathe is 88-minutes of pure adrenaline that ends in the blink of an eye. At a certain point I felt sure no one would survive—a welcome thought that put me at the mercy of the action, too invested to try hypothesizing what was coming next.


photography:
[1] Dylan Minnette (left) and Stephen Lang star in Screen Gems’ horror-thriller DON’T BREATHE. © 2016 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.**ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
[2] Jane Levy stars in Screen Gems’ horror-thriller DON’T BREATHE.
PHOTO BY: Gordon Timpen © 2016 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.**ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
[3] Daniel Zovatto stars in Screen Gems’ horror-thriller DON’T BREATHE. PHOTO BY: Gordon Timpen, SMPSP © 2016 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.**ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.

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