Film Review: ‘Don’t Breathe’ (2016) leaves you out of breath
“Don’t Breathe” (2016) is the second feature film from co-writer and director Fede Alvarez, who also co-wrote and directed a reboot of “Evil Dead” (2013). Fans who enjoyed the unique interpretation of traditional horror in the reboot will love the similar spin to the genre that Alvarez brings to “Don’t Breathe.”
The film is set in modern day Detroit, painted in the dichotomy of ultra wealthy homes and neighborhoods that appear to be real-life ghost towns. The plot focuses around a group of small time robbers: Rocky (Jane Levy) and her boyfriend, Money (Daniel Zovatto), who want to make enough money to take Rocky’s little sister away from their neglectful mother and move to California. Their accomplice is Alex (Dylan Minnette), who has access to keys and alarm codes thanks to his father’s work for an alarm company.
The group focuses mostly on petty thefts to avoid any significant legal penalties, but when Money receives a tip that a retired Army veteran has $300,000 store in his home, the three decide to investigate. Supposedly, the money had come to the man in a settlement with a woman after she hit and killed his daughter in a car accident. When the three attempt a reconnaissance of the abandoned neighborhood, they see the man walking his dog and notice that he’s blind. They decide to return that night in search of the cash.
Once the group finds a way inside the house, the night of horrors begins. The suspense is ramped up and maintained from this point forward, really pulling the viewer from scene to scene with a good mix of excellent sound design and more conventional jump scares. More than cheap scares, the film chases a convoluted plot line that keeps the audience guessing what will happen next.
While “Don’t Breathe” was a relatively low-budget film, costing under $10 million to shoot, Alvarez makes a concerted effort to not let this show. Crisp cuts and sharp images permeate the screen, fitting perfectly with the film’s meticulous sound design. The style of one scene in particular, filmed completely in night vision, sticks out as especially impressive. Alvarez is able to capture the terror associated with darkness while still creating an image with enough light to allow the viewer to see what the characters cannot. While horror directors often opt for shaky images and hand-held camera work to emphasize the “realness” of the horror, Alvarez is almost self-conscious in his effort to shoot a high-quality, low-lighting scene.
While the sharp camera work and ever-present sound design steeps the film in a sense of professionalism, at times the script falls short. In some moments, the script simply pushes the audience too far, going beyond what seems realistic and credible by viewer expectations. That being said, the strong acting convinces the audience to suspend disbelief a bit further than usual.
Overall the film contains suspense and thrills throughout. While not a traditional attempt at the genre, the horror film provides enough suspense and drama to keep the audience on the edge of their seats throughout the tight 90-minute runtime.
“Don’t Breathe” is playing at select regional theatres throughout the Upper Valley area.