Don’t Breathe (2016) Movie Review: A Breathless Experience

Don’t Breathe (2016)

Directed by – Fred Alvarez           Written by – Fred Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues

I have always held the belief that a good horror movie is one that has the ability to shit the pants out of the audience through a combination of the 3 S’s – situation, settings, and suspense, without the need to rely entirely on gore and jump scares (while there has to be violence, the audience shouldn’t be reacting just to the nature of violence, rather the circumstances that lead to it). Classic horror films like The Haunting, Les Diaboliques, The Omen (not the over the top remakes of these films) and even initial slasher films like Halloween had that quality.

Don't Breathe Poster 2In the last decade we have been bombarded with a slew of new-age slasher films (more like torture porn films if you will) like the Saw and Hostel series whose primary tool of generating scares was through extreme violence and buckets of gore; I am not too sure whether the end effect is getting the audience more scared or simply disgusted. Its a thin line that differentiates a reaction of disgust vis-a-vis truly scared, a good horror/ thriller traverses that line. While it has been heartening to see a change in the horror genre in the last few years with the return of more traditional scary flicks like The Conjuring, Paranormal Activity, Insidious, etc., off late some films have tended to rely too much on jump scares alone (The Conjuring 2, Lights Out). Its very easy to shock the audience through a sudden scary image accompanied with a blast of music, the real skill lies in keeping the audience on tenter-hooks without relying on only cheap tricks.

And this is where Don’t Breathe scores over many other films of the last decade, it neither relies too much on gratuitous use of violence or jump scares to get the end result. In many ways, Don’t Breathe defies stereotypes – it’s a home invasion movie that is shown from the invaders’ perspective, instead of making the antagonist more menacing, he is shown blind and apparently vulnerable. After making a remake of Evil Dead (which was full of the usual gore and excess), Fred Alvarez has returned with a more toned down film which still manages to be suspense filled (perhaps even more so). In fact, its hard to categorise the film purely as a horror, it certainly doesn’t have any supernatural elements and bears some similarities with other home invasion “thrillers” like Fincher’s Panic Room.

dont-breathe-still-2Without any prolonged build up, the film comes straight to the point, that of 3 guys, Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex and Money who get their kicks by breaking into houses of wealthy people. The 3 plan what would be their last heist, invading a blind old war-veteran’s (who has come to money following a cash settlement) secluded home in an abandoned neighborhood. Finding themselves trapped inside, the intruders make a shocking discovery and realise their victim isn’t as helpless as he is made out to be (“Just because he is blind, doesn’t mean he is a ***king saint bro”).

Watching the movie in a cozie recliner, yours truly was then subjected to 80 odd minutes of relentless peril and a cat and mouse game; the film toys with the audience’s roller coaster emotions and sometimes coaxes the viewer into a false sense of security for the protagonists, only to be scared again. At other times, one almost gets a perverted sense of sympathy for the blind person and his loneliness in his house. The movie, other than being a taut horror film, also shows the theme of isolation and what it can do to a person’s psyche and how it can potentially twist a person to resort to desperation (i’ll stop here at the risk of spoilers!). In the end, one is left with a disturbing feeling; again a good horror film will do that, its not just about the immediate jump scares, it should disturb the audience and make them uncomfortable post the screening.

dont-breathe-still-1The style of the film is gripping and relentless to say the list. Not much is focused on the build-up, nor is that the intention. The film has been shot in such a way so that the viewer gets a voyeuristic view of sneaking into someone’s home, a disturbed, strange, poor blind man’s home where maybe something sinister is lurking. As the burglars try to get in, the irony is we don’t know if the intruders are the evil ones or are they getting into something evil. Also, visually, most of the film is shot in darkness, as one would expect in a house invasion in the middle of the night. And darkness suits the blind man just fine, but not so for the intruders. The hunters become the hunted and allegiances change. There is probably not much to be said about the acting, it was reasonable; Stephen Lang (of Avatar fame) needs to be praised for his portrayal of the blind man, contrastingly being equal parts helpless and menacing.

dont-breathe-still-3At the risk of nitpicking, the story of the film is not entirely water-tight and does have his plot-holes. But, being more of a horror flick rather than a thriller, the intention of the film is to scare rather than make the audience decipher the mystery. And scare it does. By relying on situation, setting and suspense.

My rating – 3.5/ 5

Pathikrit Basu

A self proclaimed cinephile

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