Director: Fede Álvarez
Starring: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto and Stephen Lang
Fede Álvarez made his directorial debut by with the Evil Dead remake. Remaking a classic for your first film is a bold move. It paid off as somehow he made a worthy remake of the original. After finishing with Evil Dead Álvarez wanted to make something completely different. Move away from the supernatural horror and focus on something that was a lot more grounded, with less jump scares and gore.
The result was Don’t Breathe an original idea that Álvarez wrote and directed. Three young thieves decide to break into veteran Norman’s (Stephen Lang, Manhunter, Public Enemies) house to rob him. Norman is blind and has a lot of money stashed in his house. The only problem is that once they are in there, Norman is in control. He may be blind, but he knows the inside of the house better than the three thieves and uses that to his advantage.
Don’t Breathe is a superbly made film. It’s tense, believable and doesn’t rely on jump scares to build horror. Sadly, there is one massive let down to it. The characters. None of them are likable, the three thieves chose to break in, so you feel no sympathy for them. The old man, Norman, isn’t exactly innocent either. In fact, one of the later scenes show Norman is as much of a psycho as Norman Bates. For the most part you don’t care about the characters or want either side to survive. It’s not impossible to have a film with unlikable characters, but a lot of the tension is lost when you don’t really care if they survive or not.
There is some attempt at character building with Rocky (Jane Levy, Evil Dead, Shameless). She is stuck in a bad situation and wants to move to California to give her little sister the best life possible. That’s her reason for breaking into the old blind man’s house, and while you do want her to have a better life, there are other options that robbing someone. It leaves you feeling passive and unengaged with the film. From almost the moment Norman appears, it’s clear he isn’t a good person. The tragedy of his daughter being ran over and killed doesn’t make up for the twisted person that he has become. Once the big reveal happens you lose all sympathy for him.
The concept behind Don’t Breathe works incredibly well. The main characters are stuck in the house without any means of escape while trying to avoid Norman at all costs. The use of sound is incredible and there are some tense moments, especially with the dog chasing Rocky into the car. The moments in darkness in the basement are also really creepy.
The film never outstays its welcome and doesn’t drag for a moment, it just would be nice for the characters to be more likable. Maybe if they were just breaking in because they heard the house was abandoned, like every other house in the neighbourhood, then it would be easier to want them to survive. During the film, for the most part you’ll feel they deserve what’s coming to them.