Don’t Breathe (2016) – Six Ups, Four Downs

Dont-Breathe

This movie’s done rather well for itself at the box office—four out of five horror/thriller films do. Friday night at my theatre was the most hectic I’ve seen for an opening weekend in a while. Besides our primeval desire to be thrilled, though, this film had a lot going for it…but also fell short in some spots. And so, without further ado, let’s take a look at Don’t Breathe’s thumbs-up and thumbs-down moments…

Pros:

1. Stephen Lang. His performance in this film proves that an actor doesn’t need to say a lot in order to shine on screen. Quite literally the strong, silent type, Lang is able to deliver a performance that is equal parts chilling and tragic. As good an actor as he is, I wish he starred in more films; I’ll probably have to wait until the Deadpool sequel next year to see him again (hopefully), as Cable.

2. The camerawork. There’s almost an artsy vibe to the pre-theft scenes in this film. Fede Alvarez and his immediate crew were expert in their framing of characters, photography of some of the more serene parts of the Detroit suburbs (yes, they do exist, just watch the film), visual sleight-of-hand—you’ll see what I mean, upon viewing—and overall masterful and polished technique. Despite what can be said about the film otherwise, Alvarez’s direction, along with the loyalty and commitment of his camera crew, is leaps and bounds above what can usually be expected of a horror film.

3. The concept. This is what drew me to the film, initially. There are no monsters or ghosts, and we’re confined to this cramped house for the final two-thirds of the film—making the pursuit of these would-be thieves by Lang’s “Blind Man” character allthemore tense. It’s cool to see a filmmaker experimenting with a new take on the genre, and it’s pulled off quite well. My attention was held—firmly, even violently—throughout.

4. The tension. Again, this ties back into the concept: have a trio of twenty-somethings in a “one last job” scenario, only to be systematically hunted down in a confined space for close to an hour. There’s something genuine about the atmosphere that Alvarez creates, both with the minimal lighting, having his actors run around the set with bated breath, and allthewhile instilling into his audience the fear that the Blind Man is just around the next corner. This is definitely a “go see it at the theatre” kind of movie.

5. Jane Levy. Now here’s a strong, female lead with goals and ambitions and the unwillingness to surrender either. Rocky’s got a clear, selfless plan for using the profit from this heist, and it’s that plan that guides her throughout her being hunted by the Blind Man. She’s a survivor, the Ellen Ripley of her movie. Levy’s performance wasn’t lacking, either, as she delivered on the whole “struggling anti-hero” thing, standing out amidst her male co-leads.

6. The basement scene, part one. My favorite scene in the entire film. It was hinted at in the trailers—where Rocky and one of her friends are being chased around the maze that is the Blind Man’s basement, in the pitch-black—but that was only a taste. The real scene in the film is more drawn-out, intensified, and, to my delight, expertly filmed. It wasn’t a night vision camera, but I could see everything that was going on; Alvarez was smart in not filming a “dark” scene with only brief, uncomfortable flashes of light, as has been done before. Knowing what’s around the next corner heightened my concern for the characters, especially since they could not.

Cons: 

1. “Man is the real monster.” This is an exhausted concept. We all know the lengths to which people can be horrible to each other, but the addition of that trope to this film made me frown. It wasn’t necessary, especially seeing what it (no spoilers) leads to in the closing twenty or so minutes of the film. Despite Stephen Lang’s awesomely-creepy performance, I didn’t want to hate his character as much as I ended up doing—after all, it was his house that got broken into… I would have stood to see a malevolent entity of some sort as the antagonist, rather than the twist this film took.

2. The “reveal” scene (the basement scene, part two). The twist in this film, no spoilers, comes at about the hour-and-ten mark. It’s here that people started to get truly uneasy in the theatre, myself included. I’m not one to get up and walk out of a picture, but that’s the feeling I got from this scene. It’s the scene that made me hate Stephen Lang’s character, when he already had enough going for him. Words spoken under breath, eyes rolling… Putting it plainly, it was just nasty.

3. The run-around. I enjoyed the claustrophobic nature of this film, but as entertaining as it was to stay largely in one setting, it also got a bit tiresome. There were multiple routes the characters could have taken out of the Blind Man’s death house—numerous instances where they could have felled him—and yet, they did neither. I was getting a little aggravated with the characters’ unwillingness to act.

4. Amateur hour-and-a-half. Admittedly, these are the worst cat burglars ever. They had a single goal, and they flubbed that. And then, after being found out, they turn into the noisiest bunch of thieves ever. It’s like they lost their survival instinct; I know the premise of the film hinges on them making—or not making—noise, but there’s a point when characters fall from the realm of believability and into that of stupidity, and it happened pretty early in their run-about. They should have at least been prepared to face the consequences of their heavy-footedness. This, on top of everything else, unfortunately, nestled the film into the caste its genre predecessors set for it.

Written by Evan Kern

Just a twenty-something filmie trudging through adulthood. Taking it day by day, movie by movie. Words are life...

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