Fear the Walking Blind in Don’t Breathe

Jane Levy stars in Screen Gems' horror-thriller DON'T BREATHE.It’s a shame to see a film ruined by a trope. A single overused technique is what impedes Don’t Breathe from the being the incredible thriller it’s working so hard towards. It has so much momentum in its favor. Written and Directed by Frede Alvarez who is following up the success of his Evil Dead remake that is arguably better than the original, only argued by me of course because I’m sacrilegiously not charmed by Raimi’s kitschy sensibilities. Alvarez brings his glossy foreboding style to an inverse home invasion where three low level thieves break into the house of an old, blind war vet who’s sitting on the jackpot of settlements which he received after the accidental death of his daughter. The cast present a range of talent from the accomplished Stephen Lang, young up and comer Dylan Minnette and Fede favorite Jane Levy. All bring complexity to characters who find themselves in very desperate situations when the youthful robbers realize they’re in over their head when their victim becomes the perpetrator. Yet every moment of crescendo is undercut by the choice to start the movie in medias res effectively spoiling the ending and any question of who will survive the night.

This misstep is such a shame when you consider how calculated this film is. So much time is taken laying the foundation of the robbers mode of operations, relationships and motivations. It’s not only important to know the process in which they break into the house that consists of using keys usurped from Alex’s (Minnette) father who works in home security and only taking items they can pawn to avoid any major felonies but also the desperation that forces them to take these lengths. Our heroine Rocky (Levy) has dreams of breaking free from her fractured home run by a neglectful mother and believes there’s a brighter future for her and her little sister in California. It’s not hard to sell the catalyst of poverty in Detroit for why these characters have turned to their unlawful ways. The isolation of the abandoned city matches with the emptiness experienced once inside the house where most of the plot occurs. By no means a small residence, it quickly becomes claustrophobic when exits are triple locked and select rooms provide hiding space when the reclusive man turns the botched robbery into a manhunt.

The film is an opportunity for Alvarez to really stretch his legs as a filmmaker and experiment in a range of techniques in the confines of the location. When the group manages to get into the house after breaking a nearly out of reach bathroom window, a long tracking shot guides us to each room, designating its significance as the camera lingers on the different items that will be crucial to the plot. The film loves foreshadowing almost to its detriment yet still manages to engineer some unexpected fake outs. Not that it’s a movie that hinges on its twists but more of a delightful bonus. There’s also the treat of the fantastic black out sequence where the power is turned off in the house and an entire scene plays out with the robbers maneuvering through the basement without the use of sight. A gray veneer is provided for the audience to watch the scene as Rocky fumbles to find a path of out, nearly grazing her meticulous attacker. All the visual landscape provided by the filmmaker allows you to implant yourself in the film as you want to outsmart the geezer as much as Rocky. Tension is derived from feeling you’re equally trapped and must concoct your own theory of escape. Theoretically, this is an home run of a VR game.

Green Room is still my favorite movie of 2016 which aesthetically and narratively, Don’t Breathe is very similar to. Each about ambushed kids at the mercy of an old man who needs them dead as he has his own dirty secret to protect. Both even contain ferocious Rottweilers which is probably a PR nightmare for the breed. The biggest difference is that Green Room was a more unique scenario with it’s backwoods bar setting filled with Neo Nazis and most importantly, it’s unpredictable. There was no certainty of whom within the crew would make it out alive and I definitely couldn’t have imagined some of those grizzly deaths. Regretfully, the self sabotage downgrades Don’t Breathe’s achievements in an otherwise exciting film. In a slow blockbuster summer, it’s still worth seeing as horror has persevered through the year and we haven’t even hit October!

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