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We the audience are in a new era of horror films that divert expectations, tell unique stories, and live in a suspense-driven environment rather than one that’s fueled by gore. Green Room is an example from this year that balances the thrills, the brutality, and the story. This trend of top-notch horror-suspense films continues with director Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe.
Don’t Breathe opens on our three youthful burglars, advertised in the trailer, committing the crime they’re known for. These troubled criminals are Rocky (played by Jane Levy), Alex (played by Dylan Minnette), and Money (played by Daniel Zovatto). At the start of the film, the three of them are a well-oiled unit who know how to effectively rob houses they perceive as rich. Alex’s father works for a home security company that allows him to disarm many alarms in their heists and move on as quickly as possible.
Outside of burgling, Rocky lives in a restrictive trailer with her abusive mother, her mother’s seemingly neo-Nazi boyfriend, and her younger sister. Rocky promises her sister a better life in California but she needs a way out. Enter Money’s plan, which is to rob a blind war veteran (played by Stephen Lang) who received a hefty six-figure settlement after his daughter died in an accident. However, they quickly discover the Blind Man (that’s how he’s credited) is no slouch. He retained the skills he had before an incident during battle blinded him, and he’s thoroughly familiar with his surroundings; neither of which bode well for the three burglars.
Much of this cast and the director will be familiar to horror audiences. Fede Alvarez directed 2013’s Evil Dead, which also starred Jane Levy. Daniel Zovatto had a supporting role in 2015’s It Follows, another mold-breaking horror flick, and Dylan Minnette played a bully in Let Me In. A much more popular name in the genre is producer Sam Raimi, who was also a producer on 2013’s aforementioned Evil Dead with director Alvarez. Needless to say, all the moving parts were in their appropriate place for this movie to excel.
Director Alvarez fully utilizes all the tools at his disposal. The spoiler-filled opening shot of Don’t Breathe is easily the best opening shot in a movie all year. He also manages a single take tour of the Blind Man’s house when the three thieves first break in. Most importantly, the performances he squeezes out of his actors, specifically Levy, are stellar. Alvarez also co-wrote the picture, which is justification for one of my few criticisms of the movie. There are seldom moments where characters survive or appear only because the plot demands it and not for a logical purpose, but the moments still exist. However, this is completely forgivable considering what the film does offer its viewers.
Another technical element worth discussing is the musical score. While relevant to the genre, do not expect a memorable Stranger Things or It Follows musical backdrop. Again, this is inoffensive compared to what else the movie brings us, but it was a topic worth mentioning. However, the score does its job building the tension in the non-stop thrilling moments once the three kids break into the Blind Man’s house.
Nitpicking criticisms aside, what this movie does best is making you invest in what happens to the characters, particularly Alex. Alex has an undeniable chemistry with Rocky, who’s oddly dating Money, and you can’t resist rooting for the guy. Separately, the trailer previews a story where you start rooting for the Blind Man against strangers intruding his home, whereas the film reverses who you root for entirely despite the criminal component of burglary. Then there’s a shocking twist in the Blind Man’s story that you do not see coming, which certainly cements his character’s journey and motivations.
For the most part, Don’t Breathe avoids genre-based trope-infested waters. This results in a wholly enthralling, edge-of-your-seat theatrical experience, with surprises on unexpected occasions and an ample investment in the characters. Perfect casting, superb directing, and an unconventional take on a familiar premise makes Don’t Breathe a must-see for not only the summer, but the year.
For those who need a much more condensed version of this review, with some mild jokes peppered in it, check out my 10 Second Review below!
Did you see Don’t Breathe and…well…not breathe? Let’s have a discussion about it in the comment thread below!