DIR: Fede Alvarez • WRI: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues • PRO: Fede Alvarez, Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert • DOP: Pedro Luque • ED: Eric L. Beason, Louise Ford, Gardner Gould • DES: Naaman Marshall • MUS: Roque Baños • CAST: Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette
Before delving too deeply into this fairly standard, pretty jumpy, generally quite entertaining movie, let’s just get the main criticism out of the way – the premise is absolutely, positively ridiculous. Even the tagline is slightly embarrassed: ‘This house looked like an easy target. Until they found what was inside’. First of all, this house does NOT look like an easy target – even I could tell you that breaking into the heavily fortified home of a blind ex-army vet, who may or may not have some money lying around, sounds like one of the least fun ways to spend an evening. Especially when this particular house sits in one of the more run-down areas of Detroit surrounded by vacant buildings and derelict wastelands – it’s very address a damning indictment of the occupant’s financial holdings. However, these three teenagers, who steal from houses on a regular basis and who should know what wealth looks like, decide all the same that it looks like an attractive score. They quickly discover that – shockingly – things aren’t as they seem, and their get-rich-quick job escalates out of control with alarming intensity.
Once you get past the ridiculousness of the premise, Don’t Breathe is actually quite a lot of fun. There are jumps a-plenty, and the tension builds up at a steady pace before landing the audience with scream-worthy surprises. The main characters are…well…not great – apart from Jane Levy’s Rocky, reprising her open-eyed terror pastiche from 2013’s Evil Dead remake to great effect. The Blind Man of the house is played with utter seriousness by Stephen Lang, who somehow equates acting blind with T-Rex-inspired heavy sniffing, milky-eyed stomping and guttural growls. However, he gives the character just enough menace for his living situation to be almost believable – and for his threat to be worth some of the terror it inspires.
The two fellas who join Rocky, her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) and friend Alex (Dylan Minnette), are standard teenage compilations with standard teenage personalities. Money acts exactly like someone called ‘Money’ would act if it was a name drawn from the hat in an improv class – Zovatto is all over the place trying to shoehorn every stereotype the name inspires into his character. Minnette plays Alex with a quieter intensity and believability, but is nonetheless a one-dimensional angsty teen who really only serves to highlight Levy’s dedication to her character. Fede Alvarez directs with surprising intent for a movie like this, but it doesn’t quite work, and smacks of an underachieving David Fincher imitation – swooping under beds and through keyholes, with excess tracking shots through long hallways. While this flashy camerawork mostly amounts to distraction from his one-note directing skills, he at least forces the helm forward at all times – keeping the pace of the story snappy and jumpy, and mercifully short.
There are surprises throughout, which is why I won’t be giving a single plot point away in this review – the whole reason a film like this works is that you jump when you least expect it, and scream before you know what’s happening. Don’t Breathe delivers bangs and wallops, and while the ridiculous story and generally awful characterisation leaves a bit of a bad taste, overall it’s a pretty fun way to pass an hour and a half. A break from the stream of home invasion, haunted house or dystopian government ‘thrillers’ recently being churned out, it’s a decent piece of schlock suspense with enough thrills to shake the popcorn out of the box.
16 (See IFCO for details)
Don’t Breathe is released 9th September 2016