The 400-Word Review: Don't Breathe
By Sean Collier
August 29, 2016
Few horror movies have the gumption to invert the protagonist/antagonist dynamic in the way that Don’t Breathe does. The thriller from Fede Alvarez, director of the Evil Dead remake, pits a trio of home invaders against a blind veteran — who is emotionally wrecked from the untimely death of his daughter.
And the crooks are the good guys. In a manner of speaking.
To be fair, Don’t Breathe works too hard to make that reversal work. But the fact that Alvarez (who also wrote the film, with Rodo Sayagues) mostly succeeds at that effort sets Don’t Breathe ahead of the pack.
Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) are down-and-out Detroit teenagers with few options and one desire: to get the hell out of Detroit. Rocky is particularly motivated to whisk her young sister away from an apathetic and insulting mother. The plan: Use Alex’s access to well-to-do homes (his father runs a security company) to rob the city’s well-to-do of their expensive baubles, then save enough to head for the coast.
Money hears about a game-changing score: There’s a crazy old man sitting on hundreds of thousands of dollars in a fortified house in an otherwise abandoned neighborhood. Sure, the kids have some misgivings about robbing a blind veteran, but (like all heist movies) this could be the last job they ever need to pull. And surely three kids can outwit one blind guy, right? Unfortunately, their victim (Stephen Lang) is much more fearsome than they reckoned with. And he has more to hide than cash.
Don’t Breathe makes great use of its central gimmick — if the robbers are quiet enough, they might manage to evade their victim. Silence and movement are used, quite well, to create nail-biting tension throughout; the film decays into an endless series of twists in its later stages, but by then, the audience will be having too much fun to care.
Following in the footsteps of recent small-scale horror winners such as It Follows and Green Room, the cast of Don’t Breathe couldn’t be better, particularly Lang (best recognized by his role in Avatar) and Levy (who worked with Alvarez on Evil Dead). And while some later developments probably pass from terrifying into a bit ridiculous, well, it’s a horror movie. Perils of the form. It’s imperfect, but Don’t Breathe is among the best good-time scare flicks in years.
My Rating: 8/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark