Don't Breathe (2016)
Director: Fede Alvarez
Cast: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette
Synopsis: Hoping to walk away with a massive fortune, a trio of thieves break into the house of a blind man who isn't as helpless as he seems.
MPAA Rating: R (terror, violence, disturbing content, and language including sexual references)
Release Date: August 26, 2016
This summer has been filled with well-crafted horror films, from The Conjuring 2 to The Shallows to Lights Out. All of these horror pictures have been refreshing due to their simultaneous focus on relatable, smart human characters and technical artistry. One of the last horror flicks of the summer, Don't Breathe, follows the same path to success of the aforementioned films.
The premise, as with the other horror films, is simple: a group of teenagers seek to rob an old blind man of $300,000 that's hidden somewhere in his house. We discover early in the film that one of the three robbers, Rocky, (Jane Levy) is a teenage girl who seeks to take her little sister and move to California, away from her neglectful, uncaring mother and her alcoholic boyfriend. This, of course, takes a significant amount of money, and so she reluctantly decides to along with robbing the old, seemingly helpless blind man.
The home invasion genre is one of the most popular routes of horror filmmakers, and with good reason. The home is our sanctuary, our one place we expect to be safe and have privacy, away from the public eye. Normally, home invasion films have the home be the residence of the victim, but Don't Breathe puts a unique spin on this expectation by having the victims break into the home of the villain. The film also follows in the footsteps of Hush, a Netflix-released low-budget home invasion thriller (made for $1 million) whose victim lacked one of our five senses in being deaf. Director Mike Flanagan utilized the character's sensory weakness to have her outwit her attacker, all the while delivering excellent camerawork and sound design to immerse the viewer in the deafness of the victim. Don't Breathe similarly presents a character (the villain this time) lacking one of our five senses in being blind. The only issue this presents is that a filmmaker can't really immerse an audience in a character's blindness like they can deafness. Sound can be manipulated many different ways--going in and out of a scene, using distortion, etc. But very few things can be manipulated to immerse an audience in a character's blindness besides displaying total blackness, which gets old very fast and ultimately won't work as an effective artistic device for the filmmaker. Still, the film succeeds in being extremely suspenseful, constantly reminding the audience of the keen sense of hearing that blind people possess and utilize every way possible. From the smallest floorboard creak down to the very breathing of the robbers, the old blind man (Stephen Lang) is extremely resourceful in picking out and detecting his intruders.
Don't Breathe also excels from its well-written characters, who are given enough dimension to allow viewers to sympathize for their motivations behind the robbery as well as the terror they encounter inside the house. Even before they commit to actually performing the robbery, Alex (Dylan Minnette) is extremely hesitant, judging the morals of the group for robbing an elderly blind man.
As the film progresses into the final act, viewers will find themselves waist deep in a dark, twisted secret held by the blind man. Fans of Criminal Minds will particularly enjoy the twist, which can't possibly be predicted by viewers even minutes up to the reveal.
The film's weakest and most disappointing element is the closing scene. It's designed to look and feel smart, but ultimately comes across as too far fetched to work. It's frustrating due to the fact that most of the film is grounded in realism, with very little being questioned by the viewer as implausible.
Despite its stretched conclusion, Don't Breathe is a stirring exercise in a suspenseful atmosphere that delivers well-developed characters and a unique twist to rise near the top of the home invasion canon.