Movie review: ‘Don’t Breathe’ is a breathless exercise in chills and thrills
It’s scientifically proven that the best way to make an audience at a horror film all scream at the same time, preferably in a quiet scene with low lighting, is to suddenly throw a yowling cat in front of the camera. That cheap shock works every time. But the folks who made “Don’t Breathe” decided to up the ante. Though there isn’t a cat to be found in the effective low budget, shock-filled scare fest, there is a quiet moment in a dark scene that’s shattered by a vicious, snarling, barking, foaming-at-the-mouth Rottweiler. Whoa! Hold on to your Cokes!
The film wastes no time setting things up. We’re introduced to three 20-something Detroiters who have no direction in life beyond breaking into, looting and vandalizing empty houses, but always following one rule: “We don’t take cash.”
Yeah, but that’s until the day Roxanne (Jane Levy,) her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto), and third wheel Alex (Dylan Minnette) — whose father runs a home alarm business, giving the trio a heads-up on getting beyond locked doors — find out about a certain house in an abandoned, decrepit neighborhood. Rumor has it that the blind, ex-military guy who lives alone there has a stash of cash. So, to hell with that rule.
When they arrive for their 2 a.m. burglary, it’s already clear that Alex is meek, Roxanne is fearless, and Money is a jerk. So, it’s off to the creepy house, where the nameless character listed in the credits only as “The Blind Man (Stephen Lang, the hardcore marine in “Avatar”) is fast asleep. Some glass is shattered, the alarm system is disarmed, and director Fede Alvarez (the recent remake of “Evil Dead”) has his cameras smoothly float through the place, sometimes following the actors, sometimes briefly focusing on things that will likely late become weapons.
When the idiot named Money pulls out a Beretta, things start to go wrong. When the blind man, who knows his way around every section of the house, and has heightened senses of hearing and smell, wakes up, things get much worse.
The script must have been a quick read, because since they have to be quiet around him, the three intruders don’t get to speak much, and there’s not a lot of dialogue. In short order, the cash is found, and its owner realizes his safe has been emptied; the trio, with the loot in a backpack, attempts to leave, but finds that they’re trapped in the house due to doors that have been bolted and windows that are barred.; and it’s revealed that The Blind Man is angry, probably crazy, definitely dangerous, and is a crack shot with a pistol, especially when he can aim it someone accidentally making a floorboard creak.
Some of the best bits of tension come when the film goes absolutely silent, and the man is listening intently for aural clues while the burglars are trying to avoid those floorboards. It all goes 180 degrees in a different direction when loud sounds completely disorient the man with the great hearing. Odds are really evened when he cuts the electricity, and his accosters lose the advantage of sight.
There are tight crawl spaces, intense moments of peril, guns, hammers, oodles of violence (most of it kept slightly off-camera), and plenty of those fun-to-be-shocked-by shocks. Some thought has been put into the script, and an almost sensible reason for The Blind Man’s rage is divulged, with some really twisted story turns piled on top of it.
Know this: “Don’t Breathe” doesn’t have a large cast but there’s an unusually high body count, and it’s all capped by a pretty cool, rather unsettling ending. Why should any horror fan expect anything less?
— Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Written By Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues; directed by Fede Alvarez
With Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto