Don’t Breathe (2016) Movie Review

Since the trailer for the sequel was recently uploaded (and I was wondering when it would arrive for a long time; I don’t think trailers for big movies normally show up only one month before premiering) I thought I would bring my thoughts on the original, a horror film that’s really stuck with me, for reasons maybe different from the majority of the masses, maybe not. It’s a mystery what the main love for this superb horror film stems from, just like how I’ll be feeling towards any of the characters in Don’t Breathe 2.

Taking place in a Detroit left to rot with some unemployed desperation sprinkled on top, three friends and secret robbers manage to get by thanks to Alex’s (Dylan Minnette) father’s security system they are able to sabotage. They’re smart about not taking an amount that totals over 10Gs, and cocky enough that the badboy of the gang Money (Daniel Zovatto) is willing to urinate over the floor of one of the houses they’re burgling and Rocky, or Roxanne but everyone calls her Rocky (Jane Levy, leading another one of director Fede Alvarez’s films after she was the star of his magnificent Evil Dead) lies down on one of the beds, never mind leaving pieces of her hair behind. I guess the police of Detroit aren’t big shot investigators.

Their main goal is not to be rich from dirty money, but…okay, yes, that is their main goal, but with a truckload of it. Rocky wants to take her little sister away from their abusive mother. In a deleted scene it’s found Alex wants to become a lawyer but there isn’t enough money so he’s being forced by his somewhat decent father to go into law enforcement, something he’s drastically against. He’s probably seen corruption on their hand in his lifetime. Money probably has some grievances he wants to get away from too. Their destination? California. Money one day finds their ticket out of there when they hear about a retired war veteran who got a compensation of at least 300K after a rich teenage girl ran over his daughter. A blind war veteran at that. The robbers are too arrogant about him, though. Or at least some of them are. And soon the blind man (Stephen Lang) traps them in, into a house with bars on every window, every door locked tight, every sound they make susceptible to his extremely well-built sense of hearing and smell. With him armed and them disarmed, every breath could be their last.

My original score for this film was a very reluctant B- because its final few minutes were aggravating to the point of wondering who had the creative idea for that. The last-minute plot twist felt like a shallow attempt to set up a sequel, and, well, I suppose it was. When I give a B-, that usually means I was very close to not recommending it because it has noticeable flaws, but there was just enough that was new, thought-provoking or entertaining to say it had something going. And I think after all the messiness, anger, and the feeling of dissatisfaction for how I wanted the movie to go in my head, I had to recommend it because it both tried a new concept flipping over the home-invasion premise and creating an experience that deviated expectations to the point of being as unforgettable as some characters were unforgivable.

So, here’s the biggest, pretty much indisputable fact about Don’t Breathe: The concept is genius for a horror film, and it is shot perfectly. The concept is pure terror. Being trapped in a rather small, old, creaky house with a buff man trained in combat with no remorse about shooting you? The fact Rocky has a little sister who would be doomed to a miserable life if she didn’t make it out certainly bubbles up the tension. There’s not a single part of this house that feels like a movie set; it feels like a house the blind man has set up for his accommodations and is loaded with traps almost like he knows the money he got, plus the public knowledge of his blindness, would make him one day a target…or maybe there are other reasons. The claustrophobia, the darkness, and the terrifying shots that are so much more than jump scares, make it a movie that truly brings discomfort. Until the halfway point, when fear begins turning into anger.

What I was definitely not ready for was this little fact: Don’t Breathe creates a monster in Stephen Lang so effective, you just might, if you were before, change your mind about advocating against the death penalty. He is someone you will want to personally capture and torture until he’s begging for the mercy of death he doesn’t deserve. He is not seen that way at first, but decisions are made in this movie, characters who don’t deserve to be get killed…If this was a spoiler review, I would talk all about how it’s impossible not to get furious. Throughout all of it different characters regret and look back on what they could’ve done differently. This leads to a climax, a chase, a boss battle if you will, like when in Evil Dead, once everyone else surrendered their soul to Satan, he rose up to fight the last survivor. And it is one of the most frightening and action-packed boss fights ever put in film. What big-budget superhero movies tend to not have is the suspense that comes when we grow to like characters but we truly don’t know their fates, and that is what Don’t Breathe has. Even when the character I was rooting for got the upper hand and seemed to be the winner, nothing could convince me it was okay until all was said and done.

If you haven’t already seen Don’t Breathe, I would definitely recommend it if you like new original ideas, and to be scared, emotionally crushed, and perhaps even a pinch violated. It’s too bad there are quite a few jarring moments where questionable decisions are made where you want to yell at the characters not to do what they do. I really didn’t buy Rocky being completely against an idea that would’ve probably made the fate of the characters much better. And I really do feel the movie would’ve been better off as a standalone with a different ending. Ever since a sequel to this movie was announced, I’ve been anticipating it like a shark sniffing a bucket of blood. And I’m prepared to either embrace it, or thrash it until it’s bled dry with its contents digesting in my belly. Guess we’ll see together.

If you like this, I’d try Evil Dead and Hereditary

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