Don’t Breathe follows three thieves, Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) as they break into a blind man’s (Stephan Lang) house for a lump sum of money. Their plan seems foolproof, until they break in and find out the blind man isn’t who they believed him to be. The situation quickly spirals out of control as they try to survive the rest of the night.
Fede Alvarez, who busted onto the scene with the mostly successful reboot of the Evil Dead, builds upon his unique style of intense, gory, storytelling in this riveting ride of film. The first half of Don’t Breathe moves rather slowly as Alvarez builds tension and develops the protagonists. Although the first half of the film struggles with properly illustrating characters (particularly Alex and Money), Alvarez pushes through and delivers a fast paced, bloody, survival thriller with a dark twist on the genre that breathes some fresh air into it. I’ll keep it as spoiler free as possible; as the twist adds an unsettling layer to the film that lingers with the viewer long after.
Fede Alvarez commands the screen with his smooth foreshadowing camera work. Two scenes in particular epitomize his truly distinctive and expert style and give off a feeling of what it’s like to be blind and breathless.
It seems Alvarez has found his go-to actress in Jane Levy, as she puts on another stellar performance in her second major outing. Jane Levy’s character gets the bulk of development from the films short runtime, as we are given a few touching scenes with her little sister. Her motivations are straightforward and clear from the beginning: she doesn’t steal for money or personal benefit, but for a better life for her family. Jane Levy comes into her own in Don’t Breathe and provides enough of an emotional hook to a film that’s gorily intense throughout.
The rest of the cast plays their roles fairly well, although viewers are left with a desire to know more about their characters. They aren’t given much to do and become one-stroke characters. These shortcomings boil down to some kinks in the script. Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues decided Alex and Money’s motivations didn’t need to be as defined as Rocky or The Blind Man’s, making it hard for the audience to care for them. However, Alvarez and Sayagues deserve universal praise for creating The Blind Man, a distinctly disturbing and complex villain.
Stephan Lang puts on a show as the seemingly harmless war veteran turned gruesome killer. He does not speak for a good portion of the film; however, Lang’s chilling movements, facial expressions, and overall demeanor are more than enough to understand that our thieves are dealing with a complex person.
Don’t Breathe works better as a suspense-thriller, than it does home-invasion horror and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While the film does suffer from a few minor character development issues, the structure of the script and story is sound. With the help of Fede Alvarez’s direction, a dark genre twist, Jane Levy and Stephan Lang’s strong performances, Don’t Breathe brings something new to the table. Intense, twisted and above all else fun, Don’t Breathe surprises in being one of the best horror films of the year.
Overall: Even though it works better as a suspense-thriller than a horror film, Don’t Breathe benefits from Fede Alvarez’s strong writing and direction as well as solid performances resulting in a original, chilling, horror film.
3 ½ Stars
Rutgers Student studying Political Science & Government with a minor in Journalism who has an interest in the intersection of journalism and political movements.