Some of the best horror films don’t require expansive budgets, part of the reason why the genre is so popular with low budget filmmakers trying to break through. All that’s required for solid horror is a strong premise and legitimate filmmaking skills; after all, jump scares will only go so far before they become tedious and predictable. The latest film from Fede Alvarez, director of the Evil Dead remake, Don’t Breathe, makes the most of its limited budget and creepy premise and delivers one of the most intense pieces of horror and suspense to splatter across the big screen this year. Don’t Breathe takes about 10 minutes to pull you in, but once it does the film keeps escalating in terror and suspense in of the year’s top notch thrillers.
One thing that’s truly amazing about Don’t Breathe is that it is completely lacking heroes, which means the fact that it gets us to root for any of these immoral characters is a feat upon itself. The premise is simple: three young hooligans – Rocky (Jane Levy), the blonde from a white trash family; Alex (Dylan Minnette) the quiet one with a big crush on Rocky; and Money (Daniel Zovatto), the brash boyfriend of Rocky and the de facto leader of this trio of burglars – in the Detroit area commit a series of burglaries to earn enough money to leave the declining Motor City. They get a hot tip about a blind man (Stephen Lang) who has large amounts of cash in his home from a wrongful death settlement following the death of his daughter in a car accident. He’s a former Marine blinded in the first Gulf War. It should be an easy job, right? If it were so easy there wouldn’t be much of a movie, because the blind man isn’t as helpless as disability might suggest.
The trio of delinquents are locked in the house by the blind man, who is a muscular and imposing figure. Making him all the more terrifying is the manner with which he has no problem waving and firing a gun around despite his lack of vision. That’s where the great filmmaking of Fede Alvarez comes into play. Don’t Breathe is a true piece of pure cinema, employing sound and vision to create moments of incredible suspense. Throughout the film, Alvarez turns up the sound of minor sound effects that each breathe, the burning of a cigarette, and each step is very audible; it crafts tension as we become invested in these criminals eluding this bulking blind terminator in the darkness. There are jump scares, yes, but they’re often employed in the service of extreme tension that features a few twists and turns, sometimes of a really sharp blade.
The script by Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues has very little dialogue once the unbearable tension is underway, but they’re able to establish each of the three burglars prior to placing them in the stressful situation. It’s Stephen Lang’s blind man that is the most mysterious of the film’s characters, and there are revelations about him that are best kept secret. Don’t Breathe really has a number of things that horror fans delight in – suspense, violence, and a really twisted heart to its story.
Of 2016 movies, only Green Room does a better of job of crafting visceral tension than Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe. The film just grabs you by the throat and pulls you in for 90 minutes of pure suspense and terror. For as ugly and unpleasant the events of the film may seem, the filmmaking prowess on display from Alvarez is truly remarkable. Long takes and sparse dialogue make Don’t Breathe one of the finest pieces of visual storytelling to appear this year. In a summer full of disappointments at the cinema, Don’t Breathe is a late summer entry that delivers on its promise and then some.
Intense and shocking, Don’t Breathe is an impeccably crafted horror film that utilizes sound and vision to build some incredible moments of tension and horror.