DON’T BREATHE

I love horror films so, so much. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it was watching Scream at the young age of six, or John Carpenter’s Halloween when I was ten, that warped my fragile little mind. There’s just something about the fact that a simple movie can so greatly elicit that one emotion we all hate to feel. Unfortunately, for the genre I love so much, actual quality films are very few and far between. For every truly great horror film like The Witch that comes around, there are three other pieces of trash that get released alongside it. It’s rare when you get a truly great horror film that really subverts some tropes and does something inventive, instead of just relying on gore, jump scares, or demonic possession. It’s even better when they can be grounded in reality, something you don’t often see. In Don’t Breathe, three Detroit delinquents, who make their living robbing homes, happen upon their biggest score yet: a blind Iraq War veteran who happens to be sitting on $30,000. When they break into his house to do the deed, they find out that the blind man is not as helpless as he seems and are now fighting for their own survival.

I wasn’t a huge fan of director Fede Alvarez’s last film, the remake of the classic The Evil Dead. As glorious as the special effects were, it relied too much on blood and gore in order to shock, instead of having fun with it, or actually trying to scare. A lot of other critics felt the same way I did and from what I’ve read, Alvarez took that criticism to heart and set out to make an original story that relied more on suspense, rather than gore. He exceptionally succeeded. Don’t Breathe is wrought with tension from the moment the burglars step into the house, until the end credits roll. Taking place in primarily one location, Alvarez does a superb job at keeping the premise fresh; working in many truly horrific twists and turns throughout. The cinematography and sound design are absolutely stellar, really elevating the sensation of tension and dread. The dark and drab house had a personality of its own and the fact that it was always exceedingly dark made me increasingly uneasy, especially as the film relentlessly plays with your senses. The sound design really ratchets up the suspense as well, with things as simple as a floorboard creak making me more and more paranoid. Every cast and crew member really gave it their all in order to deliver a truly visceral viewing experience.

Speaking of the cast, the main performers are fantastic. Stephen Lang, who played the meathead military colonel in‘Avatar, is absolutely terrifying here. Although he’s blind and has few lines, he has such a commanding presence throughout, that you’re petrified whenever you’re looking into those lifeless eyes. Jane Levy, who plays main character Rocky, is the true final girl of the 21st century. She was the standout of Evil Dead and she’s amazing here, as well. There’s just so much realism in her performance, that when she feels terrified, you’re terrified along with her. She has a powerful scream, fantastic frightened facial expressions, and kicks a lot of ass. Not only was I on the edge of my seat in fear for her, but I was also in excitement rooting for her to survive. Aside from a truly terrible child actress in the beginning, the rest of the performances are serviceable enough. There’s not a whole lot of character development or depth to go around here, but when you have a clever horror film that relies on well-built tension, it’s not really necessary. There’s enough there to provide some character motivations and backstory and that’s really all we needed. The film does everything it set out to do and it did it pretty much flawlessly.

Don’t Breathe is a clear example of what can be accomplished when filmmakers have a unique premise and try to actually do something smart with it. This isn’t your typical horror film with monsters, demons, or ghosts, but that’s what makes this so brilliant. It’s a clever, unique idea that that executes its premise in every logical way it can. While you won’t be checking under your bed or inside your closet for any spooky blind men, you will be constantly on the edge of your seat throughout the brisk 88 minute runtime. Fantastic performances, amazingly well built tension, unsettlingly creepy direction, cinematography, and sound design, and a killer musical score; it’s everything that makes for a fantastic horror film and a true modern horror classic. I didn’t really care for Alvarez before, but now, consider me intrigued.

9.5/10

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