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Do you and your friends want to get into the business of robbing a house? Do you want to make hundreds of thousands of dollars doing it? Are you quick on your feet and able to escape the clutches of a vengeful blind man? Do you have a fear of turkey basters? If you answered yes to the first three questions and no to the second, then you’re ready to begin! And I’m now ready to begin my review of director Fede Alvarez’s second feature film, Don’t Breathe.
Fede Alvarez grabbed my attention, as well as a lot of yours I’m sure, with his remake of Evil Dead back in 2013. He had quite the eye behind the lens and nailed all of the throwback practical gore effects. Now he eases up a little on the gore, and jacks up the tension with his newest hat thrown into the horror ring called Don’t Breathe.
The story here is fairly simple: Three friends have big dreams as they rob houses in their surrounding Detroit neighborhoods (always take valuables, never cash is their motto) and sell off the booty to underground buyers for lower than expected cash returns. So how do you cut out the middle man and get more cash? You rob a house that has actual cash in the safe! Duh. But before we get to that, let’s meet our players.
First up, we have Rocky (Jane Levy). She lives in a Detroit trailer park with her abusive Mom who has an asshole boyfriend. She has aspiring dreams to become a famous rapper…..oh wait – that’s the plot to the movie 8 Mile. I’m sure her Mom makes delicious spaghetti though. But anyway, Rocky wants to get out of the trailer park life and move to California with her sister. Next we have Alex (Dylan Minnette) who is stuck in the ‘friend zone’ with Rocky, when he clearly wants more than that. His Dad works for a security company, and that’s their ticket into these houses for the robberies. Lastly we have Money (Daniel Zovatto), your stereotypical movie thug (also Rocky’s boyfriend) that just doesn’t give a fuck.
When the three get a tip that over $300,000 is sitting in a house, they decide to go for the big score. The house is owned by an ex-military blind man (Stephen Lang) who received the money from a rich family, after their daughter killed his daughter in a car accident. Rocky, Alex, and Money decide to break in while the man is sleeping (and make a chloroform bomb just in case he wakes up), to find out where the cash is stashed so they can grab it and get out quick. But of course we wouldn’t have a movie if things went according to plan, right? Dumb decisions are made all around, and our burglary crew find themselves being on the receiving end of a pissed of blind man with some serious fighting skills.
Honestly, to give too much else away for Don’t Breathe would ruin the fun. I’m bummed I watched a few trailers beforehand, because it’s the classic case of showing too much. It only takes about 20 minutes into the movie before we’re in the blind man’s house of horrors – and from that point on, the tension and pace doesn’t let up. Alvarez knows how to milk a scene (as evident in Evil Dead) and knows the exact point to drop the music out to add to what’s happening up on the screen. A scene where the lights are turned off by the blind man is a great example, as we know that the characters are literally trapped in the dark feeling their way around, but we the audience can see their every move.
While Evil Dead was almost literally drowning in gore and blood, Don’t Breathe relies more on making you squirm in your seat with suspense. Just when you think you know what’s going to happen, you’re hit with a right cross that knocks you back a few steps and makes you readjust your perception of what’s going to happen. There’s blood here, but it’s not the focus. The film is brutal at times (seeing violence against women is always tough to watch), and it will do wonders for turkey baster sales this Thanksgiving.
Acting wise, the report card is all A’s. Jane Levy is starting to cement herself as a legitimate ‘Final Girl’ in the horror world. Does she make some stupid decisions as Rocky? Yep. But that doesn’t take away from her acting chops. Dylan Minnette does a good job as the “nice guy” who is going to try and save the day. Does he though? Not telling. And the scene-stealer here is Stephen Lang (of Avatar fame) as the blind man who does a great job of making you feel sympathy for him one minute, and then wishing terrible things would happen to him the next.
My minor beef with Don’t Breathe is the fact that there really isn’t anyone to root for. These are all kind of bad people. I guess you’re supposed to root for Rocky of course and supposed to realize that she’s just doing whatever it takes to get herself a better life – but it’s a stretch. Also, the ‘stupid decisions’ made here are hall of fame territory as far as horror movies go, but it seems to be more forgiving due to all of the other positives spewing out of the film.
Don’t Breathe is definitely not a sophomore slump for Fede Alvarez. He’s now established himself as a legitimate force in the horror world and I’m looking forward to whatever he has on tap next. This was one of my most anticipated films of the year and it didn’t disappoint. Tense, shocking, brutal, with some good twists – that’s my kind of horror movie! Do yourself a favor though and go into it blind. See what I did there?
(4 1/2 out of 5)