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New Release Review - DON'T BREATHE

Burglars fight for their lives in the home of a blind man.






Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Fede Alvarez

Starring: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Emma Bercovici



Don't Breathe may lack the willingness to wade in murky moral waters that might elevate it to the level of grindhouse classics like Last House on the Left or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but it's not far off. See it in your sleaziest local fleapit.



Fede Alvarez's 2013 Evil Dead is one of the more contentious remakes of recent years. While a section of horror fans embraced its dark themes and explicit gore, many others bemoaned its lack of humour and visual invention, the two traits that made Sam Raimi's original so iconic. With his followup, Don't Breathe, it seems Alvarez has listened to the complaints of the latter camp, delivering a movie focussed on building suspense and scares without spilling an excess of blood (though another bodily fluid features heavily in a disturbing late sequence).

Alvarez reunites with his Evil Dead lead Jane Levy, here playing Rocky, one of a trio of teenage burglars who break into homes using alarm codes obtained by Alex (Dylan Minnette), whose father conveniently works for a security firm. When the third member of the team, Rocky's unstable boyfriend, 'Money' (Daniel Zovatto), learns of a stash of $300,000 hidden in the home of a military vet (Stephen Lang), he fails to persuade Alex to go along with a burglary. Alex has a rule of keeping the thefts below a value of $10,000, the cut-off point for a grand larceny charge, but Rocky, whom he has an unrequited crush on, sweet-talks him into joining herself and Money.


Initially it seems like easy money for the trio. The target lives in one of those many deserted neighbourhoods of Detroit, in the only occupied house for miles. Plus, he happens to be blind. But once inside, the teenage thugs find themselves fighting for their lives as their would be victim turns the tables in violent fashion.

Set in the ruins of Detroit, the early scenes of Don't Breathe are highly reminiscent of It Follows, cinematographer Pedro Luque bathing long evacuated suburban streets in a sinister amber light. But once inside the house, Alvarez ramps things up into classic grindhouse territory, a home invasion thriller in reverse. The director's camera roams the house, establishing essential geography and alerting us to the location of Chekhov's various guns, hammers and sundry weapons that will come into play later.


Adopting a blind man as the antagonist creates a moral dilemma for the viewer. Initially we're sickened by the actions of the central trio, but movies working how they do, we quickly succumb to Stockholm syndrome, finding ourselves in their (no doubt stolen) shoes. It's a shame then that in the second act Alvarez delivers a plot twist that allows us a moral reprieve, giving us some information that dramatically changes our view of the scenario and those involved.

It seems churlish to criticise what Alvarez fails to do here, especially when what he actually does is so effective. Turning the home invasion genre on its head is novel, and it also allows Alvarez to dispense with that bugbear of the modern horror film, the cellphone - as the protagonists are committing a crime, calling for help is a no no in this particular scenario.


Watching Lang terrorise these teens in spite of his visual impairment got me thinking about how the most effective horror villains are rendered more terrifying by their limitations. An alien is scarier than aliens. Slow zombies are scarier than their athletic counterparts. The latter cases are explicit threats, while the former rely on the protagonist managing to avoid any mistakes, a far more disturbing idea. In the case of Don't Breathe, the biggest danger to its teenage non-heroes is their own inexperience, and of course their greed (despite finding themselves in a hellish scenario, they still intend leaving with the money they came for).

Don't Breathe may lack the willingness to wade in murky moral waters that might elevate it to the level of grindhouse classics like Last House on the Left or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but it's not far off. See it in your sleaziest local fleapit, or a drive-in if you're lucky enough to live near one, and when it hits DVD, double bill it with Green Room. One minor niggle though: why would a blind man keep newspaper clippings?

Don't Breathe is in cinemas September 9th.




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