OP-ROB RATING: ALL-STAR
“Don’t Breathe” is a horror film directed by Fede Alvarez about three young thieves, specializing in house robberies in the Detroit area. In an opening scene the trio breaks into a nice residential home to steal electronics and jewelry and each burglar is quickly introduced. Rocky (Jane Levy), a slender girl with blonde hair, is focused on making enough money to flee her abusive mother in order to start a new life in California. Money (Daniel Zovatto) is a reckless loudmouth and a wannabe gangster, who displays little respect for professionalism during the robbery. Finally there is Alex (Dylan Minnette), who reluctantly steals information from his father’s security business in order to rob the houses. Alex is seemingly responsible and appears to be robbing the houses mostly to win over Rocky, who has placed him in the “friend-zone”, opting for the more rambunctious Money.
After the robbery yields underwhelming returns, Money seeks out a job involving an old man (Stephen Lang) that is rumored to be sitting on a large cash sum in his run-down, two-story suburban house outside of Detroit. The old man came into the money after a girl from a wealthy family killed his only daughter in a motor accident that resulted in a six-figure settlement. Money proposes the robbery to Rocky and Alex, and after some deliberation, they decide to take on the challenge as “one last job”. A successful robbery would mean Rocky could achieve her dream of moving to California. During the recon mission to the old man’s ghostly neighborhood, the group discovers the old man is blind, further strengthening their confidence in the job. Late that night, Money, Rocky and Alex approach the house and manage to break in through an upstairs window. A series of twists and turns ensue as the group discovers the man, the house, and the situation are far beyond their expectations.
“Don’t Breathe” thrives under excellent direction from Alvarez. A very distinctive film technique gives “Don’t Breathe” an edge with the pop-outs as with many scenes the camera moves through an entire room, giving the viewer a full view of the situation, before finally settling in on a character. This heightened awareness of space and location gives the audience a sense of placement within the movie. The vast majority of the film takes place inside the Blind Man’s house, and feels like a prolonged cat and mouse hunt for survival, reminiscent of the final sequence in the classic horror film “The Silence of the Lambs”.
Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be given “Don’t Breathe” is that it is just plain smart. The plot is clean-cut, and Alvarez doesn’t mess around with extra scenes that don’t add up to the story. An example of this focused direction is how objects are emphasized early in the story and become relevant later on. When Rocky initially breaks into the house, a piece of broken glass sticks to her boot, and is dislodged in the middle of the upstairs hallway. When the Blind Man awakens and searches for the burglars’ point of entry, he stumbles upon the piece of glass, which leads him into the bathroom where he subsequently boards up the broken window with a piece of plywood. In the film there are several objects that share a delayed importance, some more vital than others: a hammer, a cell phone, an alarm trigger, a pair of shoes, a gun. Another intelligent aspect of “Don’t Breathe” is the judicious use of sound. The title may imply this, but there are multiple scenes that involve such silence that a character’s breath or any small movement sounds booming.
Further strengthening “Don’t Breathe” is an overarching narrative about human nature. At many junctures each of the burglars are presented with a very stark choice, go after the money or walk away. In the beginning that choice carries little consequence, but as the story progresses so does the gravity of the decision. Time and time again the burglars choose to pursue the money, even at junctures when that could mean their lives. The exploration of these basic human desires is also reflected in the films’ villain. The Blind Man, as we find out in a disturbing revelation, is interested in a basic human entity that money can’t buy. “Don’t Breathe” lacks any kind of superstitious element, employing only plausible events, and is much more unsettling as a result.
There are a few slip-ups in “Don’t Breathe”, including the addition of a few unnecessary scenes following the climax of the film. However, on the whole it is a very smart, very scary, and ultimately satisfying horror film. Along with David Robert Mitchell’s 2014 film “It Follows”, Detroit is quickly becoming somewhat of a modern horror mecca, the derelict suburban houses ready-made for eerie events. Coming off a disastrous summer for movies, “Don’t Breathe” is a welcome sigh of relief for moviegoers and horror fans alike.