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Don’t Breathe – Movie Review

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Don’t Breathe – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Sony Pictures

One of the earliest moments of fright in Don’t Breathe has a dog suddenly appearing, creating a jump scare. One would think this is a sign the rest of the film would be filled with such attempts to jolt the audience, one of the easiest tricks in the horror film playbook. However, director Fede Alvarez smartly avoids that approach for the rest of the film. He instead manages to craft a creepy horror film, focused on tension and the occasional gross moment rather than things that go bump in the night. Most refreshingly, he uses character to create that suspense and cleverly plays with our expectations.

In the beginning, the audience alliance will most likely be with the blind man whose house is being robbed by a couple of delinquents. In defending himself from these home invaders, he has the right to stop them. However, Alvarez and his co-writer Rodo Sayagues play with our sympathies in a way that heightens the tension. There are scenes in Don’t Breathe that are truly shocking as it goes down some unexpected and horrifying roads. The use of sound is magnificently handled in everything from the creeks of the floorboards to the characters trying to breathe as quietly as possible. The audio plays just as pivotal a role in making one’s heart beat as much as the on-screen action does.

The lead performances help massively, too. Jane Levy previously collaborated with Alvarez to fantastic effect in Evil Dead and now the tables are turned on her in Don’t Breathe. So much of her acting here depends on the eyes and creating the right level of sympathy for Rocky. Dylan Minnette also brings the necessary everyman quality to Alex as he tries to figure out how to get out of this situation. Stephen Lang relies very little on dialogue as the Blind Man, which works in showing the mystery of this character. The realistic acting on display makes the scenes where they are harmed all the more intense and impactful.

Pedro Luque’s cinematography is used to terrific effect, especially when the leads first enter the house as it swirls around in a seemingly unbroken shot. The necessary claustrophobic nature is there as the characters travel further into the nooks and crannies of the house. Most of the film is appropriately dark, but it’s not in a way that makes it incomprehensible. One sequence in which the lights switch off uses lighting in a particularly clever way. The makeup is similarly outstanding, creating some truly terrifying black eyes and bloody scars sure to make many squirm. However, where the film goes in the third act will find many trying hard to look away.

A truly scary horror film is a treat as we have become accustomed to all of the cattle prods and other techniques used to make the audience jump out of their seats. Don’t Breathe earns its scares, relying on intelligently used cinematic tools and actually delivers a solid three-act story structure. The stakes are continually raised in each scene and the twists feel natural within the story, despite the rather kooky directions Alvarez takes. This is a solid film that shows the skill of its director and his ability at commandeering strong performances from his actors. When it goes into truly gross territory, it’s necessarily gratuitous in greeting the proper reaction. And that is what we sometimes want the most from our horror films. This would make a worthy companion piece with this year’s similarly claustrophobic and violent Green Room.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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