Don’t Breathe (15)
Running time 1hr 28mins
DON’T breathe: that’s the advice given to the main protagonists in this home invasion horror-thriller. But it’s also a message to the audience, who at times will be holding their breath right alongside the characters as the tension ramps up during the film’s better moments. The tensest scene, however, is one in which a Rottweiler relentlessly pursues its intended victim, and in which the holding of breath is entirely unnecessary…
Don’t Breathe is compelled to issue its stay-quiet warning to stay quiet because of the film’s antagonist – an old blind man (Stephen Lang) whose other senses are heightened in compensation for his lack of sight. He can hear you, he can smell you, he can almost taste you. Bad news for the three-strong gang of serial burglars who target his home when they hear about a huge wad of money he may or may not have stashed there, which he was awarded following the death of his daughter. The three live in run-down Detroit, and for Rocky (Jane Levy) in particular, stealing from the better-off is her way out of the city. Boyfriend Money’s (Daniel Zovatto) motivations are slightly different – he seems to get off on turning over the houses of the rich, urinating on floors and needlessly smashing possessions during break-ins. The third in the gang, Alex (Dylan Minnette), does it because of a not-so-secret crush on Rocky. In her thrall, he’ll do anything she asks.
The film, in typical fashion, sets all up for a fall: their actions leave them waiting to receive their punishment and the audience keen to see it unfold. The man that greets them is more then he at first seems, and when things take a sinister turn, they’re forced to fight for their lives. A meld of claustrophobic home invasion thriller, kidnap shocker and edgy horror, the premise turns the typical home invasion plot line on its head, as well as giving us an unusual villain – one with whom we are able to sympathise on some level and one that theoretically allows the director to be inventive as he attempts to build plausibility into his film, persuading us that the odds are in a blind man’s favour. This is, unsurprisingly, difficult and he’s not always successful. Why don’t the intruders try to overpower him? Why hasn’t anybody tried to break in before? Why is he so hench? You’ll have plenty of other queries of the plot, which is pocked with holes, and you’ll question the film’s use of cliché – perhaps most visible in its setting up of Money as an instantly expendable, detestable, two-dimensional plot device.
In its favour, it likes to blur the lines between good guy and bad – although, again, not always successfully. The film initially sets the three thieves up as characters who deserve what’s coming to them but then it asks us to find sympathy for them when the blind homeowner turns psycho.
Touching on US breaking and entering laws, Don’t Breathe is usually on the side of the intruders but on several key occasions it asks the audience to condemn them – particularly when Rocky’s insistence on not alerting the police and making sure she gets out with the money throw her morals into question. She may have an innocent young sister to save from a bleak existence, but that doesn’t excuse her behaviour.
There are some interesting themes and approaches to this otherwise generic horror offering from Fede Alvarez, the director that brought us the Evil Dead remake, but it’s ultimately spoiled by a tediously clichéd, underdeveloped script and characters you couldn’t care less about.