Review: Don’t Breathe is intense, shocking, and truly original.
In 2013, Fede Alvarez brought the Evil Dead franchise back to life at SXSW. Three years later, Alvarez returns to SXSW with his new film, Don’t Breathe. The film had its World Premiere at the Stateside Theater and very little was known about the project and even premiered as the Untitled Fede Alveraz Project. Don’t Breathe follows three friends Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto) who earn a living by robbing homes near Detroit, Michigan. Rocky’s plan is to ultimately steal enough money to leave Michigan and move with her sister to California. As Money (Daniel Zovatto) begins to investigate his next heist, he learns about a blind gulf war veteran that lives nearby in an abandoned neighborhood. The blind vet has hundreds of thousands of dollars from a six figure settlement stored in his home. Determined that this will be his final heist, Money convinces Rocky and Alex to join him as a way for them to leave Michigan and get their fresh start in California.
Unfortunately, I didn’t see Don’t Breathe at SXSW but the film came highly recommended by my friend and We Live Entertainment’s very own Chase Lee who attended the World Premiere. Chase told me that I needed to see the film because it wasn’t the standard horror fare and was more of a suspenseful mystery than anything else. I didn’t even watch the trailer for the film before I saw it. I wanted to go in blind (no pun intended) and didn’t want to know anything at all about the plot. I think by having no idea as to what to expect, I was genuinely surprised and found it to be a real nice change of pace from the typical horror thriller fare.
Don‘t Breathe is a non-stop thrill ride that will have you gasping for air until the credits roll. It is a film that is not for the faint of heart and will have you on the edge of your seat for almost the entire film. The short 88 minute feature takes a rather simple concept and runs with it. The film has only four main characters and anyone else shown is so minor of a character that they will barely matter to the viewer. The main focus of this film is to build suspense and have the audience guessing what will happen next.
Fede Alvarez is slowly becoming the new master of suspense. He is extremely creative with how he makes his films suspenseful. Don’t Breathe has a couple of jump scares but Alvarez doesn’t rely on these to make the film scary. What I loved most about the film was that it really relied on setting up and building this “quiet” tone. A lot of the film’s suspense comes from scenes where people are just walking around trying to avoid this old man. You never quite know when someone is going to bump into another person and Alvarez really embraces that. We see Rocky and Alex try to escape; however, every foot step, sneeze or cough makes the audiences nervous. The atmosphere that Alvarez creates works well and only helps build several intense moments. You can’t help but feel nervous as an audience member when watching these characters on-screen.
Another interesting element to note is that Fede Alvarez‘s and Rodo Sayagues‘ script focuses on three central characters but none of these characters can particularly be viewed as good. This might make some viewers unable to enjoy the film because we are so used to the Hollywood formula of needing someone to root for. While Rocky and Alex aren’t as unlikable as Money is, I still wouldn’t say that I really liked them as people. I thought their motives were selfish but it was refreshing to see a story being told about characters like this. This isn’t the norm but lets be honest, people like this do exist in this world whether we like to admit it or not.
My only real complaint with this film is something that occurs with the old man in the third act. The film builds up this premise that this old man is this war vet that has had a really shitty life. He lives alone, doesn’t have a wife, and something happened to his daughter that we learn about early on. I think what really stood out about the story is that for the first two thirds, the audience really didn’t know how the story was going to play out and you didn’t know who you were suppose to root for. The final act really took me out of the film and it all starts when the old man picks up the turkey baster. I won’t go into detail but this changes the tone and storyline. It goes into this bizarre territory that changes the way the viewer looks at this old man. Again, its edgy and different but I don’t really feel it worked as well as Alvarez and Savagues truly hoped for. I couldn’t get past it and seemed very out of place.
The good news is that even though the film did lose me for a few minutes in the final act, the script does manage to get back on track and ends on a high note. I really liked the final scene as I felt it really touches upon the idea of “who is the real victim” and how the media sees things. The more I think about Don’t Breathe, the more I like it simply because it takes chances and takes a simple concept and runs with it. I think this is when the film truly shines and I really wish it didn’t try to do some of the other things that the story attempts to do. I didn’t think these other plot points added anything to the film but instead took away from it.
All in all, Don’t Breathe is a must see for fans of suspenseful horror thrillers. Its an edge of your seat thrill ride that will keep people guessing what will happen next. Alvarez is here to stay and he will only continue to make more films that challenge audiences and make them look at characters in different ways. Don’t Breathe is great way to end of summer and ranks well among several other great mainstream horror films released in 2016.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s final rating for Don’t Breathe is a 7.5 out of 10.