After a heist goes wrong, three burglars are trapped and hunted in a house by the homeowner… A blind war vet with surprises of his own.
DON’T BREATHE is easily one of the most gripping and tense thrillers I’ve seen in recent memory. The entire film is perfectly set up and twists are at every turn. Everything from the acting, to the shots, to the sound design keep you on the tip of your toes at every possible moment. Much like the characters in the house, just when you think you know where it’s going, you get slammed into a wall and dragged in… trapped for more.
Fede Alvarez continues to be one of the filmmakers whose output I always to look forward to. I was a huge fan of what he did with that EVIL DEAD remake, but DON’T BREATHE is next level stuff. Much of that same team (such as original THE EVIL DEAD producers themselves, Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi) returns to this film, and the end product is so damn satisfying that I hope they continue to collaborate on more kickass horror genre goodness.
But don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot more at play here than your typical thriller. There’s characters with motives and heart. They have reasons for doing what they’re doing. When Rocky (played perfectly by Jane Levy, who Fede previously put through hell in his EVIL DEAD) struggles to survive and has to outthink her captor, you’re rooting for her. You want her to get out… Something one would normally not say about someone breaking into a blind man’s home… But Jane makes you care. That’s a little rare in this genre, where one often roots for the Big Bad, but not in this film. In DON’T BREATHE you want her and her friends to get the hell out of there. You want them to win. Even if they’re technically bad guys… it’s not a simple black and white matter. There are great themes of right and wrong and moral greys in this film, and those feelings and themes stay with you to the end.
On the other side of things, Steve Lang is utterly terrifying as the crazy old blind vet. I keep forgetting this is the same guy from MANHUNTER and AVATAR. He’s always had a huge amount of range, but this is the first time he’s scared the crap out of me. Equal parts sad, tragic, scary, and batshit crazy. He is nightmare fuel personified. So nuanced… yet so friggin’ creepy.
But my favourite character in DON’T BREATHE has to be the house itself. Since the majority of the film takes place in the home, the audience needs to get well acquainted with it, and they definitely do, because the camera work does an amazing job of making you get a sense of every nook and cranny. From high and low, from those cracks of light to those darkest depths, you feel like you’re trapped in there with them!
This film is a total triumph on the technical side of things. The the swooping tracking shots and perfect sound design make you really feel the tension. You are totally trapped with the characters. You really hear what they hear, which includes the Blind Man, since sound is so crucial to his hunt. You see, or don’t see, what they see, since a lot of this movie is in the dark, which does happen a lot in this genre, but goddammit, they make it work.
And that’s another thing I love about this film. You’re not totally immersed in darkness. You still see what’s going on, something this genre needs to remember, that good horror is the proper balance of light and shadows, and these guys totally get that. There’s one scene that takes place entirely in the dark, it’s essentially pitch black, but the filmmakers find a way to make that work for the viewer, without going for the cheap black screen for five minutes. This film would sweep the Oscars tech awards if the Academy weren’t such crybabies about the horror genre.
FX wise, yes, you gorehounds, there’s enough blood and moments to shriek at, but this isn’t a gore film per se, it’s a survival horror at it’s best… but there are enough moments that’ll have you looking away (or glued to the screen) to give you that horror fix. Including one moment that’s probaby ruined Thanksgiving for me… but I digress. At it’s core, it’s not one of those films… but there’s plenty to keep your attention. Having said that, this film is more about ambience and mood.
On that note about mood and tone, score wise, this film reteams Fede and company with Roque Baños, who’s just tearing it up lately with perfect unsettling film cues. Perfect balance of just enough music to keep things going and just enough to terrify the bejebus out of you. After seeing this movie I immediately recalled how much I loved his EVIL DEAD score. If you liked that one you’ll love this one. I’m right now impatiently looking for DON’T BREATHE on Spotify, but I’m probably going to have to wait for it. That’s another reason to check out this film. Hear the score the way it was meant to be heard on a giant multi-speaker sound setup. Equal parts beautiful and equal parts scary as fuck.
I really want to go into further detail about this film, but I don’t want to give away more than I already have. Just run to see this one. I’m running to see this one. I’m utterly stoked beyond belief to see this one again tonight. I need to see this with a packed Fantasia crowd and so should you. Heck, even the press screening I attended was full of jumps and gasps, and you know how jaded us critics are. This film is sure to be a cult classic studied by film geeks for years. Hop aboard that bandwagon now and tell your friends… But do it very quietly… Because you don’t know who’s around that corner…
DON’T BREATHE closes The Fantasia Festival tonight at 9:45pm! As of this writing tickets are still available, but act quick! Otherwise it hits screens later this month on August 25th!