Don't Breathe (2016) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
12May/170

Don’t Breathe (2016)

Rocky wants to get out-of-town and take her little sister along.  Only problem, she's living under an abusive mother and her only means of survival involves burglarizing homes that her friend Alex can get the codes to.  Rocky, Alex, and her boyfriend Money all have an opportunity to make a load of cash by stealing from a blind veteran.  As Rocky and the gang are about to find out, this vet isn't helpless, and he has plans of his own.  Fede Álvarez directs Don't Breathe, with the screenplay written by Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues, and stars Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto.

Back when Can't Stop the Movies was a quartet, I passed up the opportunity to write the review for Fede Álvarez's Evil Dead remake.  Why?  Because the red-band trailer had an image of a woman in silhouette licking a straight razor like it was a popsicle.  I know my limits when it comes to images and have had panic attacks watching some movies (the burial scene in Kill Bill Vol. 2 comes to mind).  There's no way I would have been able to give it a proper assessment when it was in the theaters because I doubted my ability to sit through it.

I'm both happy and nauseous to report Álvarez's Don't Breathe has its own straight razor moment.  The physical repulsion of the moment was, blessedly, less nauseating than seeing a woman lick a razor.  But I did gag, mostly due to the act involving a logical use for turkey basters, and because of the sheer potency of the image.  Don't Breathe features a number of excellent horror moments but it's the way the men react to Rocky (Jane Levy) that will stick with me the most.

Money is an overconfident sleaze, more interested in how he looks to others when he kisses Rocky than how he treats her.

Before we're introduced to The Blind Man (Stephen Lang), the burglary destined to go horribly wrong, or the turkey baster, Álvarez crafts suspense by lingering on shots of the men in Rocky's life seeing her as little more than a tool.  There's "nice guy" Alex (an appropriately pathetic Dylan Minnette), staring at her like some abused mutt, who withholds crucial support until he knows he can extract some concession from Rocky.  While Alex looks longingly at Rocky, her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) makes damn sure Alex is watching when Rocky kisses Money.

When Álvarez launches the heist he has already set up a tense dynamic between the three burglars.  Therein lies the beauty of Álvarez's screenplay, which he co-wrote with Rodo Sayagues, as each relationship unravels in a level of emotional truth most dramas would kill to have.  What sets Rocky apart from lesser horror heroines is her knowledge of being a pawn for the men who surround her.  As Money finds himself in trouble, Rocky wisely places her own survival above his, same with Alex.  She's smart, doing everything she can to manipulate her surroundings so that she can survive, and because of all these men desperate to use her it's hard to find much fault in her approach.

As the proverbial poop hits the fan in The Blind Man's home, Álvarez showcases how tight a grasp of the setting he has.  His camera dollies in, dollies out, rotates around confined spaces, positions the performers in perfect blocking situations where the only way to control the situation is through an opponent.  This applies both to the trio and to The Blind Man, as the creaky old house gives The Blind Man an advantage the trio does not have, and once the lights are out all bets are off.  There isn't a single wasted aspect of the house and it becomes another character in Don't Breathe as The Blind Man's own sins carefully tucked away in corners have a visible effect on the slowly rotting house.

I was also impressed with Álvarez's careful doling out of violence.  One of the earliest, and most shocking, deaths involves one character getting shot in the head.  In a great and brief slow motion shot, the unfortunate character's skull lights up from bottom-to-top like a Jack-o'-lantern.  Many of the other violent acts take place off-screen, which both heightens the tension of just what happened to each characters, as well as showcasing the limitations of each party to the burglary.  The Blind Man only knows that people are in his home, not who they are or what they look like, and it makes diegetic sense for Álvarez's camera to be unclear about who suffers what and when.

Minimal lighting in a cramped house leaves Álvarez plenty of room for striking shots that set up the geography of the gang's struggle against The Blind Man.

The performances are all great but Lang's work as The Blind Man is special.  The Blind Man is made to feel alien in his own home and Lang's performance hits that perfectly.  He sounds like an old Max von Sydow character, equal parts pained human and growling demon with just a hint of foreign accent in his voice.  It requires Don't Breathe to reveal The Blind Man's monstrous qualities before he ever loses sympathy and that's largely thanks to Lang's sympathetic work.  Even then - it's hard to disagree with him grumbling out, "Rich girls don't go to jail."

Barely eighty minutes roll on when Don't Breathe hits the credits, and not a single second was wasted.  Álvarez gives us the scope of relationships in a few seconds and seemingly throwaway shots set up a potent payoff down the line.  If it's true Álvarez made Don't Breathe as a response to the criticisms of Evil Dead, then we've got a restless horror giant to look forward to as he irons out what few wrinkles he has left.

Don't Breathe (2016)

Directed by Fede Álvarez.
Screenplay written by Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues.
Starring Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto.

Posted by Andrew

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