Movie Review: Don't Breathe
By Matthew Huntley
September 5, 2016
Expectedly, their plans go awry, and without giving away too many details, the army vet turns out to be a force to be reckoned with, and just as Janet Leigh's thief character from Psycho found out with Norman Bates, the characters in Don't Breathe discover “The Blind Man” gives them more than they bargained for. But the plot mixes things up a bit by revealing he's not the most innocent of victims (just wait and see what he does with a turkey baster).
The movie is called Don't Breathe for a reason. Since hearing has become The Blind Man's primary sense of detecting who's where, the characters know they can't let him hear their breaths. This is an aspect the filmmakers use to great effect. During one of the movie's best sequences, The Blind Man turns off all the lights in his house and renders his perpetrators visionless, using his own knowledge and experience of his surroundings, and perhaps his heightened other senses, to attack them. Alvarez films these scenes with a gray filter and the actors do a good job of making us believe they really are blind to what's happening around them and must reach and feel around to get their bearings. The camera follows them down ladders, through vents, out windows and through glass ceilings, all of which really put us in their space and constricted situations.
Who survives in the end is for you to find out, but what's interesting about the story is there are no clearly defined heroes. We don't particularly like or care about any of the characters, because each is contemptible in his and her own way, and while I realize not every story needs a traditional hero or heroine, particularly within the horror genre, it does make it make more difficult to get behind. I do, however, believe Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues were aware of this and wanted to challenge us by going against the conventional narrative grain, which is another way Don't Breathe distinguishes itself from others like it.
And yet, even with its stronger-than-expected qualities, I remain torn. The movie is commendable from a filmmaking perspective, but it's not a particularly “enjoyable” experience, which, oddly enough, is what I expected going in and what the ads and genre set it up to be. So do I recommend it or not? It reminded me of when somebody tells you, “This is going to hurt,” before doing whatever it is they do and then proceed to hurt you. And even though they warned you, you're still mad at them after the fact. Going into Don't Breathe, we know its intentions are to make us feel tense and squirm in our seats, but even after it fulfills this duty, we feel mis-treated, or at least I did.
I'll leave it at this: I would rather re-watch Don't Breathe and observe its innovative techniques and breaking of traditional narrative rules than see a by-the-numbers horror movie that may not be as discomforting but simply regurgitates everything we expect from the genre. In other words, if I had the choice of enduring either a well made horror movie that doesn't make me feel good because of its content and culpable characters or one that doesn't make feel good because it's badly made, I'd choose the former. If anything, we can admire Don't Breathe for achieving what it set out to do, and then some, even though it doesn't make for pleasant viewing.