Don’t Breathe (2016)

27 Aug

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I wrote in my “Lights Out” review that 2016 was becoming a great year for smart mainstream horror. I also notice it’s been a banner year for confined thrillers—“10 Cloverfield Lane” has a maniac in a basement; “Hush” takes place at one house in which a deaf woman is vulnerable against a psycho (or is she?); the action in “Green Room” mostly takes place in a tight room in the back of a bar; and now, we have “Don’t Breathe,” in which unlucky burglars are trapped in a locked-down house with a blind war vet trained to kill.

“Don’t Breathe” brings a neat twist to the Home-Invasion Thriller. Of course, the particular example I think of is the 1967 thriller, “Wait Until Dark,” in which Audrey Hepburn is a blind woman terrorized by three thieves searching her home for something specific; they underestimate her and she manages to fight back. In this film, however, the thieves are our protagonists. And it’s not sweet Audrey Hepburn’s house they’re burgling—it’s rough-as-sandpaper Stephen Lang. He apparently has a stash of cash hidden somewhere in his house in the middle of a lonely neighborhood. The thieves—three arrogant teenagers (Jane Levy, Dylan Minette, and Daniel Zovatto)—hear about this and figure this will be their last score if they can pull it off. Because Lang is blind, they see this whole idea as an easy task, aside from the pet Rottweiler they have to sedate temporarily.

But in the middle of the gang’s search, the Blind Man (who’s never given a name) awakens after their chloroform bomb fails and knows there are people in his house. That’s when the teens realize they burgled the wrong house and messed with the wrong guy. And from that point, things go really, really wrong…

From that point, the film turns into a tense, chilling thrill ride that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. From the cinematography to the sound design to the “how-the-hell-are-they-gonna-get-outta-this-one” situations (one after the other), “Don’t Breathe” is a nail-biting experience that hardly lets up once it gets started. When Stephen Lang is walking blindly in his house while looking for these kids, I feel like I should be holding my own breath, making sure I’m not heard either. The suspense is palpable throughout many of these sequences, and you wonder, from one scene to the next, how these kids are going to get out of each tight spot they’re stuck in. You really feel these kids’ mutual fear as they realize too late they made a huge mistake in thinking they could rob a blind person who may in fact be a psychopath, and you do root for them to either find a way out of that house without being caught somehow or even to steal the loot. (How often does a film come along in which you forget stealing money from a blind guy is a bad thing? To be fair, we do get early character-establishment scenes that show why these kids, particularly Levy’s character, need the money; so we at least have some understanding why she takes a chance at times.)

When it comes to messages, we see it mostly done in melodramas which most of us would rather not watch because a lot of them are portrayed in a very manipulative way. I feel with horror films, you can get the message out stronger. It can be summed up like this: “If you do this, you’re screwed.” The best way to sum up “Don’t Breathe” is, “Don’t underestimate the blind, because if you do, you’re screwed!”

OK, OK, so the film tries to stretch it out even longer by giving the Blind Man more psychotic tendencies (to say the least—but I won’t spoil anything here), but the point still remains: don’t underestimate the blind.

“Don’t Breathe” is a well-made, well-acted, exciting hell-ride that helps me further my statement that 2016 is a very good year for horror. We have four months left, so let’s wait and see what else we can get.

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