Movie Review: Don't Breathe

By Matthew Huntley

September 5, 2016

Seriously, if the blind dude travels via vent, we're all in trouble.

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Don't Breathe promises to be sick, twisted, and depraved, and on that level, it certainly lives up to its end of the bargain. This is a lean, atmospheric and well-crafted horror-thriller that serves as a prime example of a film that deliberately sets out to make the audience feel violated and disturbed. On the flip side, it makes us feel violated and disturbed, and that makes it sort of a Catch-22. Writing as a film critic, I admire the filmmakers' techniques and the way they unabashedly and mercilessly places us in a dark and cynical world. But writing as a human being who feels it's not in our nature to hurt one another, and who believes we shouldn't glorify violence, I question whether it's right to experience something as gruesome as Don't Breathe, let alone applaud those who made it.

Don't get me wrong; I enjoy horror movies, even disturbing ones, and there are, of course, thousands of others just as unnerving as this one, if not more-so, and sometimes they're admirable (The Silence of the Lambs) while other times they're not (for the most part, any Saw sequel). There's no blanket rule for whether any film of this nature is worth recommending or not. As with all films, we must take each one on a case by case basis and ask ourselves, with all its violence, horrific imagery and morally reprehensible characters, did it at least entertain us? In other words, are we better off for having seen it?

Specifically with regards to Don't Breathe, my answer is ultimately no, though I'm on the fence. I recognize it's not easy to do what the filmmakers have accomplished here, and though the plot is an amalgamation of several other horror movies, including The Silence of the Lambs, Psycho and Cujo, among others, its execution of a few key sequences help set it apart. They also convince us the director, Fede Alvarez, knows what he's doing and is in complete control. He skillfully generates the movie's effects instead of merely dishing out torture porn.


The plot follows a trio of young, low-level criminals who routinely break into homes around Detroit, blaming the city and its dwindling economy for their behavior and woes. They steal some high-priced goods and then sell them for cash, which is a rather easy scheme to pull off since Alex (Dylan Minnette) has access to the target houses' keys, thanks to his dad's security company being the primary protector of the given property (he keeps copies of the keys locked up in his office). Rocky (Jane Levy), the lone female of the group, hopes her takings will allow her and her little sister to move to California and escape their abusive and neglectful mother, while Money (Daniel Zovatto), the archetypal machismo and hothead, has similar ambitions, though his are more selfish.

Following their latest heist, Money gets a tip from his seedy buyer that a blind army veteran living in a run-down and nearly empty neighborhood is stowing away $300k somewhere in his house, which Rocky and Money believe would put them over the top. But Alex, who's the most cautious and morally responsible of the three, not to mention well-versed in the laws they're breaking, doesn't feel right about robbing a blind man. Plus, he thinks the vet's heavily fortified house, with its many locks and bars, makes it too dangerous. However, he also has a crush on Rocky and wants to please her, maybe even run away with her, so they proceed to break into the vet's house in the middle of the night when he's asleep.

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