Unlike the majority of horror films this century, “Don’t Breathe” didn’t terribly disappoint me. I liked it. A lot actually. When I first saw the trailer, it stood out from the pack of repetitive cookie cutter horror movies that have come to define the genre..pretty much since the beginning of the 2000s. Here’s a film that didn’t rely on uninspired, quick, hollow scares or a half-naked Blake Lively battling a shark to generate significant buzz.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, the film centers around a young woman and her two friends planning a to rob a helpless old blind man. Surprise, surprise…the blind man isn’t so helpless and harbors some secrets of his own that unravel as the movie rolls on. Writer/director Fede Alvarez continues to show promise in the horror genre after rebooting the “Evil Dead” franchise in 2013. Although the reboot didn’t spark a new wave of interest or reinvigorate fans of the old series, it could have easily stood on its own as an original offering had it not been tied to the series. There was simply no need to remake such a classic and iconic piece of horror.
Speaking of 2013’s “Evil Dead”, Jane Levy reunited with Alvarez for a far more cerebral approach to fear. Once again she plays the heroine, Rocky. However, the real lead is the blind man played Stephen Lang of “Avatar” fame. His blend of intensity and experience lent itself very nicely to an otherwise young roster. Lang commands every scene in which he is on camera without having much dialogue until the film’s final act. Dylan Minnette and Daniel Zovatto round out the main cast playing Rocky’s best friend Alex and boyfriend Money respectively. Zovatto and Minnette both bring some previous horror experience to the table from films such as “It Follows” (2014) and “Let Me In” (2010).
The chemistry between the three friends works well on screen. They each have very well defined roles and all play to their parts accordingly. Unfortunately the characters themselves are one of the weaker areas of the movie. Not much time is spent on defining the characters and results in the lack of clear motives for their behavior. Perhaps that level of detail is irrelevant as most of the film’s first act is clearly outlined in the previews. One of the three gets shot in the trailer. I found this created a strange ambiguity when it came to choosing sides and whether it was accidental or intentional, it was a refreshing change to a familiar formula.
Pedro Luque’s cinematography and Roque Baños’s original score also played major roles in the film’s success as a whole. All the interior scenes in the blind man’s house are framed to make the audience feel every inch of (or lack thereof) the cramped environment, bordering on outright claustrophobia on several occasions. The close quarters of the set played out beautifully on screen. The characters came within inches of one another in both dead silence and pitch darkness. The music stirs the emotional pot at just the right pace carrying the burden in moments of silence and complementing the action as needed.
At the end of the day, anticipation is the key to great horror and Alvarez and company certainly delivered. The idea that drives the movie is simple. So simple it’s mostly laid out in the trailer. However, the waiting game is where this film earned its stripes and its $26M opening weekend box office. For all the casual fans of the genre, there are some scares that will make you jump. For the diehards, there are moments that will make you sweat. And for everyone, there is one of the most disgusting scenes in recent movie memory to bring it all together. If you haven’t seen it already go check it out and if you’ve seen it, go see it again and let the studios know good quality horror films can make money too.