Full of mind-blowing suspense and gorgeous cinematography, ‘Don’t Breathe’ is a film that will have you rapt with both terror and excitement, cementing its place among my personal favorites.
The second major picture from director Fede Alvarez has confirmed the trend suggested by his 2013 remake, Evil Dead: Alvarez knows horror.
He has reversed tone from the wacky, gory romp to a much more subdued and chilling experience with ‘Don’t Breathe’. This quiet exploration of family bonds tests the limits of both its characters and its audience.The dead silence at my crowded showing speaks to the film’s very unique mastery of tension.
‘Don’t Breathe’ is a concise, tightly wound story that centers on a trio of young burglars in modern-day Detroit. Wide, somber establishing shots set the isolating tone of the film immediately. Our thieves are mostly careful, opting to keep their offenses under the limit for a felony, rigging security alarms, and the like.
It isn’t long before the cracks in their organization are made obvious, as the power dynamics of a love triangle only threaten to break their string of good luck. The film wastes no time characterizing these three, packing each moment with important dialogue that defines the characters while moving the plot along.
The introduction of a gun to the story is a fine example that unleashes a deluge of character development. Each character’s desperation intersects at a junction leading them to up the ante with one large, final score: an old, blind loner in a dead part of town.
The already claustrophobic setting of a decaying Detroit grows even more suffocating as our antiheroes enter the den of a monster for which they could never have been prepared.
Upon entering the house, director Alvarez takes the viewer on a gorgeous tour of the house, foreshadowing important rooms and items scattered around the home of the Blind Man (as he is named in the credits). Most horror films neglect informing the audience of space, likely to build extra tension and leave room for convenient escape. Viewers who keep their eyes open will be very cognizant of where everything is, including the various routes available to fleeing characters.
While one may be hesitant to call this a horror film as opposed to a thriller, it functions exactly like a monster movie. Steven Lang (Avatar, Conan the Barbarian) combines his intimidating physique with a hauntingly vacant personality to deliver an almost inhuman performance.
The Blind Man’s presence is ever-threatening as he lumbers through his darkened home, searching for those who threaten to take that which is most valuable to him. In an inversion of typical horror, the quiet moments are the most terrifying. When this monster makes noise, the protagonists are safe. When he stops and listens, it’s as though you can sense tendrils feeling about the house, licking the tears from the faces of shivering intruders.
As an avid horror fan, I like to check my disbelief at the theater door. Ghosts and demons can fall flat if you aren’t in the right mindset.
There is no right mindset to prepare you for how many times you will find yourself holding your own breath, as though you may accidentally alter the events on screen with your own gasps. ‘Don’t Breathe’ is the exact kind of hair-raising adventure needed to kick off the autumnal horror season.
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