If there’s one thing that is getting boring in cinema, it’s home invasion thrillers. I am sick of nasty bastards breaking into homes with the intent of violence or theft – it’s just getting a little tedious. The Purge, You’re Next, Hush, The Strangers, Home Invasion, Intruders…It’s too much. Don’t Breathe, however, does something a little different. This time, the delinquent home invaders are the ‘heroes’, while the antagonist of the film is the homeowner – an old blind chap. How can an old blind man be the villain to a group of thieves breaking into his house? It’s quite simple really. He’s an absolute fucking nutter.
Don’t Breathe follows Rocky, Alex and Money – three thieves who make a living by breaking into homes. Our main hero, or heroine, is Rocky (Jane Levy) – a conflicted young woman whose delinquency is almost justified in that she’s trying to make a better life for herself and her young sister Diddy, both trapped under the wrath of their neglectful mother and her alcoholic boyfriend. After learning of a big stash of money in the home of a blind war veteran, Rocky and her fellow crooks decide to ‘rob the joint’. He’s an old blind man, how hard can it be?
Very hard. Very hard indeed. The villainous blind man, known only as ‘the Blind Man’, is in fact the last person you want to be trapped in a house with. With sound his only ally, the film’s title comes from the fact our heroes cannot even breathe – if the Blind Man hears you, he will kill you. Of course, the house has creaky floorboards and creaky doors and, hell, creaky everything. Bloody typical.
“Just because he’s blind, it doesn’t mean he’s a fucking saint, bro”, Money (Daniel Zovatto) says. Indeed. Stephen Lang, known to most audiences as Avatar’s Colonel Miles Quaritch, is an absolute marvel as the sightless villain. He is silently intimidating in the same way Hardy’s Bane was, y’know, before he spoke. Big and intense. Terrifying, and yet almost sympathetic - this hardened war veteran’s past trauma almost makes us side with him. And hey, our ‘heroes’ are thieves, breaking into his home. But as we enter act 3, we learn that Money might’ve been right all along…He’s batshit crazy. Despite learning some things about him that might just make him deserving of a twatting, you do often think to yourself “guys, if you hadn’t tried to rob the bloke, you wouldn’t be in this mess…”.
Director Fede Alvarez noted that making the film was, in a way, a response to the reception of his debut film, 2013’s Evil Dead remake – mainly, the criticism that the film was too focused on shocking the audience with excessive violence. Fun fact; his Evil Dead holds the record for most fake blood ever brought onto a set! Buster Bluth would approve - “Unlimited juice? This party is going to be off the hook!”. Anyway, Alvarez decided here to make a film that contained less blood and focused more on suspense over shock tactics, and in doing so, made an exceptionally effective horror-thriller. Largely silent, the film’s power comes from Fede Alvarez’s intentional choice – there is very little violence or cliché shocks. This is an exercise in Hitchcockian tension. You’ll find yourself following the film title’s instruction, but not by choice. On the edge of your seat, you’ll hear your own heartbeat.
In conclusion, Don’t Breathe is something fresh in the genre – which is enough to earn it a high recommendation. It’s scary and unbearably tense, yet doesn’t rely heavily on shock tactics to scare the viewer. Stephen Lang puts in his best performance yet and Fede Alvarez proves himself a force to be reckoned with in modern thrills. Turn out the lights and enjoy. Despite being rather shit life advice, Don’t Breathe makes for a compelling thrill-ride. 4/5
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