Don't Breathe

Don't Breathe

 

Don't Breathe 

2016. Directed by Fede Alvarez. 

Alvarez's second feature film, Don't Breathe is a great example of no brakes cinema.  

Three friends looking to escape the urban graveyard of Detroit decide to rob a blind Iraq veteran who they believe has 300K in cash stashed somewhere in his house.  The tables are quickly turned when the unfortunate trio learn that the blind man is anything but helpless.  What follows is an inverted cat and mouse thriller that takes no prisoners and makes zero apologies for its malicious intent.  

Pedro Luque's cinematography is overwhelmed with dirty greens and blues that saturate every frame.  There are two scenes in particular, one being the "dark" basement sequence that are to die for.  The camera manages to not only capture the terror of the robbers but also evokes an almost surreal nightmare feeling by turning the most innocuous household items into elements of violence.  

Jane Levy and Dylan Minnette do excellent physically, but don't have much to work with in the development department, and I believe that is part of the charm.  The first 20 minutes only exist to get you to the main event, and that event is Stephan Lang. He is an esoteric force in every single scene.  The magic is how his physicality and his primal use of instincts and senses combine to create a believable and thankfully non-supernatural boogeyman.  Lang's body language and excellent, simple costuming done by Carlos Rosario, elicit a constant sense of dread once the story moves into the house.

The house itself is a marvel of set design.  Zsuzsa Mihalek managed to create an inescapable prison masked as the last occupied house on a lonely street.  The way the house manages to foil the characters with mundane obstacles is another testament to the film's adherence to a grounded and minimalist story.  

The semi-Achilles heel is the script.  Aside from the lack of character development, the story collapses under the mammoth weight of the central act, adding an insane side plot designed to give empathy to the robbers but ultimately leaves you repulsed.  It's evident upon the film's conclusion that the absolutely jaw dropping middle segment was just too much to top and it's not a fatal flaw. One thing that is to be appreciated is how a backpack full of cash becomes a Pyrrhic symbol of hope as the tension mounts.  It's presence, and physical location throughout the film enhance the duality of the character's hopes of physical and mental salvation. 

In theaters now, Don't Breathe shows that Alvarez is growing as an artist and I'm eager to view his next offering.  If you're looking for a balls to the wall horror film that's light on gore and heavy on suspense, then this is the film for you.   Holding your breathe in terror has never been more fun.

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