Release date: 9th September 2016/Watch the trailer here
Don’t Breathe, which has ended up being one of the surprise hits of the summer at the U.S. box office, made its way to the UK this week. The film, a horror-thriller from Fede Alvarez, the man behind 2013’s Evil Dead reboot, is about a trio of thieves hoping to make an easy fortune by stealing from the house of a blind war veteran. It turns out that the man (Stephen Lang) isn’t as helpless as he appears, and the film turns into a tense struggle for the young thieves’ survival.
What’s so effective about Don’t Breathe is the way in which it turns the typical home invasion movie premise – a vulnerable young woman having to fight off a thuggish invader – upside down. Our protagonists may be thieves, but they’re developed well enough for us to care about their fate (or at least, two of them are – Rocky (Jane Levy), who needs the money for a better life with her younger sister, and Alex (Dylan Minnette), a seemingly good guy who gets roped in because of his dad’s security company and his crush on Rocky).
Lang, as the blind man, makes for a thoroughly unsympathetic victim, and is in fact one of the more terrifying horror movie ‘monsters’ that we’ve seen in recent years. His house seemingly has locks on every door and bars on every window, and he can hear every creaking floorboard. His relentless pursuit of the intruders culminates in a pitch-black basement; with his other senses heightened, the blind man turns the lights off to disorientate his victims, resulting in a sequence that is uncomfortably claustrophobic for the characters and audience alike.
Alvarez is every bit as relentless as the man himself, never letting his characters pause for breath. Every time you think that they have finally found a way to escape, Alvarez pulls them back in ways that are cleverly foreshadowed throughout the film. However, this prolonged approach does start to feel stale after a while, once you realise that Don’t Breathe is simply relying on the same tactics over and over again.
Therein lies the problem; new ground is never broken, and despite Alvarez’s competence in making a film that is both intense and suspenseful, his methods are age-old. There is only one moment in the film that truly shocks, and not for good reason – it’s a stomach-churning scene that has already sparked much controversy online.
One disgusting plot twist aside, Don’t Breathe is still immensely enjoyable for the most part, achieving what it sets out to do and scaring you in the process. Refreshingly, it’s a film that doesn’t have an over-reliance on jump scares, instead working hard to create tension, claustrophobia, and surprise. Certain aspects of it are, of course, ridiculous, but it’s grounded enough in gritty reality to be frightening. The result is a crowd-pleasing one, that boils down to an exciting struggle to escape a blind man, his dog, and his horror house.