Don’t Breathe: gorgeous and horrific

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Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 12.51.48 PM

Jeff Turner
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR

A simple premise holds power. Three people are trapped in a house. There’s a blind man who will kill them if he finds them. It’s basically an elevator pitch, succinct, and yet there’s still plenty to expand upon.

Who is the blind man? What has he been doing?

“Don’t Breathe” is mechanical. That sounds like an insult. It partially is. The dialogue is used solely to move the characters from point A to point B, never to engage or challenge the viewer.
If machines were this exciting and fun more often, a film being ‘mechanical’ might not carry such a stigma.

The three leads are Rocky (Jane Levy), Money (Daniel Zovado) and Alex (Dylan Minnette). They are given brief, almost one-sentence introductions before being thrust into the crux of the film. They want to pull off a robbery; they are going to rob a blind Iraq War vet (Stephen Lang, who is chilling in this role) received with a lot of money from a settlement after a rich girl killed his daughter in a car accident.

There’s more to the blind man than the movie lets on in its first act. “Don’t Breathe” dispenses these reveals wisely and steadily. Director Fede Alvarez lets the tension ratchet and ratchet, until he eventually goes a few steps too far.

Without spoiling, “Don’t Breathe” attempts to do a fake-out ending, and then another fake-out and another, and another and yet another. The film has about four or five points where it could have just naturally ended. It “Return of the King”-ed us.

A modest critique, several of the techniques and mechanics in “Don’t Breathe” are remarkable. Similar to how in “Die Hard,” the viewer remembers the nuances of Nakatomi Plaza, it feels lived in. Likewise, the Blind Man’s house gets fully fleshed out to disturbing, intimate detail. The viewer understands what is where, and where in the house that place is. That’s the advantage of a smaller setting, the director and screenwriter have more opportunities to develop the location and make it feel more ‘iconic’.

One problem is with the film is that it attempts to make a statement on grief and parenthood, but it doesn’t seem to have much above surface level to say on the matter. This doesn’t mean the mechanics don’t work, just that the film borders on being too long.

More films need to take risks and have straight-up bummer endings, and it’s disappointing, because “Don’t Breathe” comes close to being great. But its ending is a half-measure. Hopefully this success means more momentum for Alvarez to take more risks on this front.

“Don’t Breathe” is a sound conclusion to a sore summer and a solid horror film. Alvarez only has the “Evil Dead” remake to his credit, and of those two films, “Don’t Breathe” inspires more confidence. He likely has yet to make his masterpiece, but he will evolve as a filmmaker and this will stand to benefit us all.

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