Don’t Breathe (2016) is the second feature length movie directed – but also written and produced – by Fede Alvarez, the so-called newcomer of horror cinema.
If you go to this movie expecting to watch something really ‘horror-style’, you will be probably vastly disappointed by Don’t Breathe, which is a dark thriller with some tiny, little horror elements.
The plot revolves around a home-invasion committed by three misfits who decided to make the big shot, trying to steal the inheritance of a blind old man thinking he is completely defenceless. In fact, he is everything but defenceless. He is quite powerful and devious instead, so that our three main characters are in a tons of troubles.
Speaking of the characters, two out of four – Alex and Money, respectively portrayed by Dylan Minnette Daniel Zovatto – are reductive and convenient, with no depth or motivations whatsoever. Nevertheless, the show stealers of the movie are Jane Levy – Rocky – and Stephen Lang, who pulled off the best performance of his career as the blind, war veteran villain.
Levy was great in Evil Dead and in Don’t Breathe she is able to maintain that reputation as one of the most interesting rising actors working today. Lang is a true surprise – while being quite good in his over-the-top Avatar performance, he did not do much of relevance in his career. On the contrary, in this film “Lang’s sinewy build and sudden movements gave him a terrifying, almost lupine-like physicality”, according to Brian Raftery, WIRED’s movie reviewer.
Another major plus of this movie consists of its dreadful and uncomfortable atmosphere, built through the clever use of colours, the lack of soundtrack and the claustrophobic environment where the characters have to face one another.
However, to me Don’t Breathe has flaws. First of all, it rips off David Fincher’s Panic Room way too much. For instance, Money is a non-funny, bland spoof of Jared Leto’s Junior from said movie, as well as Alex shares the same worries brought on screen by Burnham (Forest Whitaker) in Fincher’s film.
In addition, there are a couple of sequences which are entirely copied from Panic Room, for example the astonishing camera shots lingering on flat surfaces and the opening credits.
Let’s talk about the movie twist.
Basically, Rocky and Alex – fortunately Money is killed few minutes after the home intrusion – discover that the blind man has kidnapped the young woman who killed his daughter in a car accident, locked her up in his basement, and impregnated her, so that he can have another child.
This twist is clearly inserted in the movie for ‘horror’ reasons, but to me it has the downside to turn a – all in all – well-made thriller into something that winks at the torture porn sub-genre, breaking the attention of the audience as well as the linearity of the story.
Also the very ending is vastly disappointing. After having accidentally shot the woman he kidnapped, the blind man decides that Rocky should instead be the one to bear his offspring – thanks to Alex she is able to escape and take her revenge on the villain, beating him up to death and running away with the six-figure sum he has been hiding in the property. But oh oh oh, as soon as Rocky and her daughter reach the local airport with the intention to move to California, the media spread the news that the blind man is still alive.
Seriously? An open ending which allows the possibility of a sequel? This is one of the most cliché horror grand finale, which all of the sudden breaks suspension of disbelief that remained intact after the ‘torture-porn sequence’.
According to the various reviews and rankings, Don’t Breathe is a strongly polarizing movie. Either you love it or you hate it.
In my humble opinion, it should be placed in a grey area. It’s a good movie, with genuine suspense, two astounding performances, good camera work and great chromatic choices. On the other hands, the film features rip offs from other – better – movies, a couple of dumb sequences and a very disappointing ending.
Through his first two films, Alvarez proved himself as an interesting filmmaker and I am looking forward to seeing what he is going to accomplish with The Girl Who Played with Fire, a drama/thriller based on the Swedish novel of the same name. Still, in his writing and direction there are flaws and the biggest one for me is the lack of originality. Hopefully, he will improve with his future projects. Cheers.