RNC Review: Don’t Breathe

A few things need to be discussed when talking about Don’t Breathe, the second feature-length film from director Fede Alvarez, set in a mostly abandoned neighborhood in Detroit.

First, 2016 has been a damn good year for horror films. The Witch, The Conjuring 2, Green Room, Lights Out and now this, have all been well received by critics, and I’m guessing the general public as well. To be quite honest, I have no idea what people want in horror movies these days, but that’s a topic for another day.

Second, this movie doesn’t happen if Fede Alvarez doesn’t direct 2013’s Evil Dead, the remake to Sam Raimi’s cult-classic. While the remake offers some good visuals along with some utterly disturbing imagery, it also lacks the humor of the original, which arguably made people love it. Fair to say the lukewarm response to Evil Dead inspired Alvarez to try something different. Don’t Breathe is that and more.

This movie works because Alvarez knows the world he wants to create, and he knows exactly how he wants to bring you into it, to the point where you can’t escape. That’s what a great horror movie is supposed to do.

The movie opens with the audience getting a glimpse of how the three protagonists go about robbing homes during the day and selling the loot for cash. Daniel Zovatto plays Money, a wannabe hoodlum and boyfriend to Rocky, played by Jane Levy (who was also the lead in the Evil Dead remake). Daniel Minnette’s Alex runs the point for the trio, offering reminders before and all throughout the robberies. In some ways, he also serves as a moral compass for the group. When the trio is considering whether or not to rob what they interpret to be the home of a helpless blind senior citizen (Stephen Lang), it is Alex who realizes just how low someone has to be rob from the blind. After some careful consideration, he decides to go along with the plan.

Shortly after the trio breaks into the house, they are confronted by Lang and learn that he is not the helpless senior citizen they assumed him to be. What follows over the remainder of the film, is a tense, disturbing and unpredictable game of hide and go seek. As the old man locks them inside, Rocky and Alex find themselves having to overcome a series of increasingly difficult challenges in order to stay hidden, and most importantly, alive.

To make this premise work for as long as it does, it not only requires setting a tone that keeps the suspense at a high level, but it also requires characters the audience can be invested in. On that end, Stephen Lang deserves all the credit in the world. He’s perfect as the blind veteran. He doesn’t speak often, but his movements are every bit as fascinating as any line he could deliver. Levy and Minnette also work well here. The most satisfying part about these three is that they all have clear motivations. You never question why they’re doing these things. Because of this, you actually care what their fates will be even when you don’t completely approve of their actions.

With any horror movie, it’s the ending that will leave people talking. Don’t Breathe has a satisfying, and arguably exhausting, conclusion. Not the type of illogical ending that will make you realize the entire movie makes no sense, but it could have ended a few minutes earlier, and your thoughts on the story would not change.

All things considered, Don’t Breathe is not only a wonderful execution of modern horror, but simply a great film from a talented storyteller. From the script and the pacing, to the cinematography and strong performances of the lily-white cast, and the extremely effective sound design, the movie is a compact and concise journey into the unpredictable world of bad decisions and even worse consequences.

If you’re fan of horror, you will enjoy this movie. If you’re not a fan, I think you’ll find enough elements of the story interesting enough to sit through. In a summer where smaller films have surpassed the blockbuster releases, this one ranks very high. Fede Alvarez has a bright future ahead of him, and this film is exactly why.

RNC Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

ALSO: In real life, Detroit only causes white people this much grief when the Lions are playing.

Final thought: I missed out on The Witch and Green Room, but fully intend on reviewing those when I get the chance.

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