Don't Breathe Review

Don't Breathe is a 2016 horror thriller written by Fede Álvarez/Rodo Sayagues and also directed by Fede Álvarez. The film was one of the most talked about films of last year and garnered a large amount of critical praise.

Story
A group of poor Detroit kids make a living for themselves by robbing the houses of wealthier people in order to raise enough money to move out of the city. At long last, they find a mark that might allow them to do that: the house of an old blind man who has a large amount of cash stashed inside his house and since he's blind they could hypothetically sneak around the house with him inside without him knowing they're even there. The problem is that this man is a retired war veteran whose knowledge of the layout of his house and expert combat training make him a dangerous threat to the would be robbers. Now, they just need to survive the night and get the hell out of the guy's house.

The set up is ingenious. It's the kind of thing Hitchcock himself would've come up with and it leads to a lot of really good, really intense moments. There are times when the kids are in the exact same room as the blind guy and you're just hoping and praying that their phone doesn't go off or that he doesn't just step slightly to the left or something. One scene that particularly stands out for me is when the guy turns off the lights in his house and now the kids are just as blind as he is but without any knowledge of how the area is laid out. It's fantastic.

If I had to look at this objectively (which I do because I'm a critic) I would say that the main kids are unlikable as characters. Trying to break into a house to rob a blind guy is pretty scummy thing to do when you get down to it. I can understand why that has been such a stumbling block for other viewers (just look at the IMDb reviews if you don't believe me), but there were a few things that helped me to root for the kids in the end. One was that I had heard something about a stomach churning twist to the old man that made him the bad guy so I knew exactly who to root for. (By the way, don't watch this movie if you are even the tiniest bit squeamish. The twist is really, really intense) The second is that while it is still a crappy thing to do to rob a blind guy, they put him on equal footing with his combat training and knowledge of his house. The third thing is purely subjective so bear with me; one of the kids robbing the place is a girl who's trying to raise money to get her sister out of their trailer park home and away from her abusive mother and her lazy boyfriend. That in itself wouldn't exactly help me root for her, but what helps is that I've known people like this in real life. The kind of people that just seem to get constantly shit on by life and you just want them to get a break, but they never do. In a way, it was almost cathartic to watch her try to get the money for her sister.

The screenplay is ok, though not anything spectacular. A lot of times when they were explaining the backstories of the characters I was thinking "This really isn't how normal people would explain this. Heck, they wouldn't even talk about something like this." However, that can be forgiven since only about 20% of the movie is dialogue and the rest is getting the pissed scared out of you.

Technical
I've read a lot of reviews that complained about the lighting (or lack thereof) in this movie, but I thought it was really good. I liked how there was so little lighting, adding to the tension of "Where's this guy gonna pop up next". It really added to the creepy atmosphere. I also liked the colors of the lighting. In the opening shot, they somehow managed to make the color orange creepy. I don't know if it's just the shade they used or something, but it sets the tone immediately. The orange light in the house almost feels oppressive, like heat pressing in on you in this already claustrophobic environment.

The camera work is great at ramping up the tension. When they first break into the guy's house the camera zooms in on everything they do that's making noise, making you tense up, thinking that just about anything could wake him up. However, the camera work in the beginning is also a bit odd. During a really long take of the entire house, the camera takes time to zoom in on certain objects and then just keep moving on. I understand that it was setting up certain things that are going to be important in the future and the execution of integrating these things into their escape is satisfying, but I feel like there could've been a better way to do that instead of zooming in on the object and going "THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER!!!"

The acting is pretty good, particularly from Steven Lang, who plays the blind guy. He has to do a lot of his acting without any dialogue, selling both the blind old man persona and the dangerous soldier and make them both convincing. The main girl of the film also does a good job, portraying a character who is flawed while also being sympathetic.

Summary: In the end, Don't Breathe is a dirty, shocking exploitation grind house flick, but it's great performances, nail-biting tension build up and Hitchcockian premise raise it above and beyond the usual crop of indie horror. If you're looking for a tense as hell experience for this Halloween, you should definitely check this one out.

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