Director: Fede Alvarez
Cast: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto and Stephen Lang
Running Time: 88 minutes
Release Date: September 9th
How do you make an audience root for a clutch of fairly loathsome protagonists? If you’re Fede Alvarez, you follow up an Evil Dead remake by sketching your opposing force with an instrument as blunt as some of those wielded within that nasty, gore-soaked affair.
Don’t Breathe chronicles the adventures of a trio of thieves of a late teenage/early twenties vintage and their bid to pull off the proverbial One Last Score that will see them leave behind the distressed remnants of their native Detroit for good. Standing in their way is a seemingly normal house surrounded by abandoned derelict buildings and a grieving old blind occupant said to have a huge cash reserve stashed away on the premises. As sure as water is wet, it all goes horribly wrong quite quickly.
‘But wait,’, you cry. ‘How could I ever be expected to care about criminals who are targeting a lonely and emotionally wounded blind dude?’ Fear not, for the Blind Man (that’s literally his character’s name) is even more despicable than the enterprising young offenders who come calling. Everyone’s a clunky archetype here; Jane Levy’s Rocky longs to escape a broken home and just wants a better life for her and her little sister, Dylan Minnette’s Alex is easily led due to his crush on Rocky but appears to have at least sliver of a conscience, and Daniel Zovatto of It Follows fame rounds out the suspiciously good looking gang as a cornrow-sporting dickhead named ‘Money’ who likes to piss on the floor of the places he fleeces. Subtle, it ain’t.
Alvarez and cinematographer Pedro Luque score points early on as they use clever camerawork to establish the geography of the house, rendering it as both effectively claustrophobic and deceptively labyrinthine. Stephen Lang, long a versatile ‘that guy’ actor thanks to memorable turns in the forms of a doomed tabloid hack in Manhunter, a bleached blonde serial killer in The Hard Way and, er, a bigger cartoon character than the neon blue CGI plush toys around him in Avatar (hey, remember when he was in a giant robot mech suit and he pulled out a knife at one point? Good times), does excellent work here, using his physical presence to great effect and selling the few character moments offered, even if his eventual speaking voice sounds quite a bit like a certain oft-impersonated theatrical villain of recent pop culture times.
Alas, he and his playmates are let down by a script and a director determined to upset and #trigger their audience. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll have spotted The Big Twist that comes halfway through – hey marketing departments; less is more especially when it comes to horror – and it instantly turns the film on its head in all the wrong ways. Uncomfortable by design and entirely unnecessary, the shift in proceedings essentially scuppers the whole enterprise. It’s not that Don’t Breathe was heading to genre classic status beforehand or anything – a tortured monologue involving a ladybug is among the worst dialogue of 2016, for instance – but momentum, tension and genuine dread were building just fine until Alvarez decided his work wasn’t SHOCKING enough.
Don’t Breathe could have been an interesting morality play in which you weren’t sure where you stood in the conflict, where undeserved pain and understandable desperation hit harder than the odd rote jump scare. Instead it’s Jason Voorhees lurking in the dark and ultimately just as unseemly as what sits beyond that mask.