Don’t Breathe Is A Quick And Dirty Horror Film That Thrives Through Subversion.

Don’t Breathe.
Director: Fede Alvarez.
Writer: Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues.
Actors: Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette and Daniel Zovatto.
Opens: Wide.

Home invasion movies represent some of the most intense entries in the horror genre, in large part since the simple premise at the heart of these films feels plausible. An assailant (usually masked) terrorizing, torturing and tormenting a family within their own home, spurred on through primarily sadistic reasoning, is for whatever reason a fear we all share.

But what happens when you take the formula and inverse it, where the intruders are the victims and the owner just happens to be a freakishly ripped blind man with a killer instinct played by Stephen Lang? Well, you have Don’t Breathe.

Don’t Breathe follows three young thieves — the leader Money (Daniel Zovatto), his girlfriend Rocky (Jane Levy) and third wheel Alex (Dylan Minette) — as they attempt to steal from a fancy house in Detroit. They’re thieves with a code: They refuse to steal more than $10,000 worth of goods, under the guise that staying below this figure will keep them out of jail. Alex is the tech guy who uses his father’s alarm business to gain entry to the homes. Rocky is stuck with a terrible living situation and hoping for a better life, wanting to move to California with Money and her sister.

When they hear of a big score that can get them to Cali, they throw their code out the window and jump on the chance to rob a blind man (Stephen Lang) who is allegedly sitting on hundreds of thousands of dollars. What they don’t realize is that this blind man is a veteran who has guns all over his house, a mean dog and a refusal to just put up with a bunch of kids trying to steal his money.

Lang is downright freaky as the old man. He’s never given a name. He barely speaks for the majority of the movie, and when he does, he sounds more animal than man. Once the story gives more of his background, his character becomes simultaneously more sympathetic and more horrifying.

In all, Don’t Breathe actually has a pretty nihilistic point of view. Our protagonists are thieves with few redeeming qualities, and the villain is a vengeful man. Neither group is particularly sympathetic. Unfortunately, the movie squanders the opportunity to explore this more and fails to get as thematically deep as it could.

On a visual level, though, the most looks amazing. Director Fede Alvarez uses a simulated one-shot take that allows the viewer to see the house’s layout. Then he uses a grey night vision during one chase sequence that is especially tense and makes the thieves as blind as their assailant. And the whole movie, whether through cinematography or the setting, just feels gross and grimy as hell.

That helps the movie frighten, which it also accomplishes through traditional jump-scares and tense moments, like when the thieves have to stay quiet around the blind man — and, honestly, silence has never been so terrifying. As a warning, though, there are some surprisingly extreme and visceral scenes in the movie that might cause people to leave. Then again, this is an R-rated horror movie, so audiences should know what they’re getting into beforehand.

The good news is there’s no wasted time in reaching that action. One of the best things about this movie is its 88-minute run time, which forces Don’t Breathe to be economical with its audience’s attention spans. The character motivations are dealt with quickly and the film burns no more than 15 minutes before getting to the house.

Don’t Breathe is a quick and dirty movie, and thanks to its camera work and genre subversion, it manages to stand tall in an already strong year for horror. Alvarez seems to be specializing in visually unique and extreme horror, and it’ll be exciting to see what he’ll do next.

Grade: B.

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