Published on October 8th, 2016 | by Dan Gvozden0
DON’T BREATHE – REVIEW
Earlier this year, attending the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, I noticed a curious listing for a film in the festival’s program. Beyond the name Untitled Ghost House Film, the program offered no information about this secretive, early screening of an upcoming horror film from Ghost House Pictures, director Sam Raimi’s (Evil Dead, Spider-Man) horror movie production company. It is common at major festivals like SXSW and Sundance that studios screen movies for the first time, often unfinished, if they suspect that they will be well received. However, it is quite unusual for a film to be untitled, with no additional information, including cast details and a brief plot summary.
I could think of no better way to experience this particular film than going in blind. Eventually titled Don’t Breathe, this mysterious movie could not have been more appropriately dubbed. Writer/director Fede Alvarez burst onto the horror scene with his visually stunning remake of Evil Dead, but it is Don’t Breathe that proves that’s he’s here to stay. From It Follows to The Babadook, it has been a tremendous time to be a horror fan, but Don’t Breathe is the best modern horror film yet, destined to be a classic and hopefully to inspire a new generation of filmmakers to follow in its footsteps.
The film’s premise is simple and all the better for it. In Detroit, a group of friends (Jane Levy, Dylan Minette, Daniel Zovatto) break into the house of a wealthy, blind war veteran (Stephen Lang), thinking they’ll get away with the perfect heist. Of course, they are very wrong, in every sense of the word. Suddenly, they find themselves trapped in the house with the deadly blind man and escape becomes a fleeting, necessary impossibility.
The film’s script is full of twists and turns best preserved for the experience itself, but it’s safe to say that things are not as they initially appear regarding the blind man. Initially presented as a victim to the thieves’ aggressive robbery of his house, he quickly and violently repositions himself as the predator and them as the helpless prey.
Don’t Breathe is a panic-inducing thrill ride that moves effortlessly from one thrilling action to another, with little time to recover. Each twist and turn is more terrifying and exhilarating than the last, with a sadistic undertone that would be unbearable if it weren’t so satisfying as a narrative. Unlike most modern horror films, there are few jump scares and not a single moment where a character makes an ill-advised action.
This allows for Don’t Breathe to unfold in a logical but unpredictable fashion that’s rare in genre entertainment. To make things scarier, Alvarez’s camera glides through the house in dreamlike fashion, slowly revealing all the horrors that could be and will be in store for the protagonists. Every detail is important to the story; one could imagine the filmmakers building a dollhouse to plan out the events of the film, item by item and character by character.
This danger is enhanced by a heightened sound landscape, as if hearing the world of the film through the perspective of the blind man. Both times that I’ve seen Don’t Breathe, one could hear a pin drop in the audience, each person terrified that if they made a sound it might alert the blind man to the presence of our terrified heroes. The sound of an audience member shuffling their feet was enough for me to nervously twist in my seat, hoping Stephen Lang’s character wasn’t approaching from behind me.
Don’t Breathe is one of the most intense experiences I’ve had in a movie theater and one whose secrets deserve to be preserved for as long as possible. It takes cues from all the great thrillers, from directors as varied as Alfred Hitchcock and David Fincher, all while inventing new thrills all its own. That it does this without reveling in torture, gore, sexuality, jump scares or any of the other clichés that have defined modern horror for over a decade is to its credit. Don’t Breathe isn’t for the light of heart, but those looking for a nonstop thrill ride that’s destined to be mentioned alongside the classics should look no further. Then, after it’s all done, be sure to take a breather.