Shock value has it’s place in film, but I’m of the school that believes that there are only two real ways to achieve those results without looking like you’re pandering to the audience.
- The shocks have to be unique and unexpected; this is the best case scenario
- You need to be overwhelmed by them, which will produce either a sense of dread OR satire-infused laughter
Don’t Breathe (2016)
Cast: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto
Director: Fede Alvarez
released on blu-ray November 29, 2016
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%, Audience Score 80%
The Guardian: ****/*****
Fede Alvarez only has two directorial credits to his name to date, but he is already establishing himself as someone to be reckoned with. After releasing a short film to YouTube in 2009, he caught the attention of Ghost House Pictures, who decided to give him the directorial responsibilities for the Evil Dead remake – no small task to be sure. Fast forward a few years later and the movie did well but it’s not regarded as highly as the original but I personally think it’s a strong movie in it’s own right.
Then Alvarez was given the opportunity to make Don’t Breathe, what he calls an exercise in reversal. A challenge against the complaints of Evil Dead. An original story with limited blood that focuses on shocking the audience with real world horror. It also subverts some tropes about scary houses and home invasions being a horror for the owner.
The movie introduces us to Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto). They live in Detroit and make money by breaking into homes through Alex’s father’s security company. Rocky has an abusive home life and wants to leave for California with her little sister as soon as possible.
Money receives a tip from their buyer that a blind Army vet (Stephen Lang) has $300,000 in cash in his house, given as a settlement after a young woman killed his daughter in a car collision.
After drugging the Blind Man’s dog, the teens are only able to break into the house through a small window because the security system is reinforced with additional locks. Unable to find the money, Money shoots a locked door and wakes the Blind Man who overpowers and kills him. Rocky hides in a closet, but sees the Blind Man open the safe. After he leaves, Alex and Rocky take the money and attempt to leave, but not before the Blind Man learns that there were more intruders than just Money..
Heading into the basement, the pair are surprised by a restrained, gagged woman in a padded cell. She is Cindy, the woman that killed the Blind Man’s daughter. They free her and attempt to leave, stopped by the Blind Man, who mistakenly shoots and kills Cindy. Rocky and Alex flee while the Blind Man shuts off the lights.
Rocky gets into the vents, while Alex is attacked by the newly awake guard dog, and then is seemingly killed by the Blind Man. Meanwhile, the dog pursues Rocky through the vents, and she is eventually captured by the Blind Man. She wakes up restrained, where the Blind Man reveals he artificially inseminated Cindy to replace the child she killed. He then attempts to artificially inseminate Rocky but Alex knocks him out and handcuffs him.
Rocky and Alex attempt to leave one last time, but the Blind Man breaks free and shoots Alex. Rocky is able to escape, pursued by the dog, though she does trap it. The Blind Man uses this as an opportunity to recapture her, but at the last moment she disorients him with the house alarm system, and knocks him into the basement where he shoots himself by accident. Finally able to leave Detroit, Rocky and her sister see a news report that the Blind Man survived a B&E, but no mention of the stolen money.
Pros: Alvarez employs the familiar techniques of suspense quite well, and even manages an excellent plot twist that will surprise even the most liberal of sensibilities. The plot is tight and pacing is well kept.
Cons: The three protagonists are undercooked meat. Which makes it difficult to accept the antics that get them locked in the house in the first placee AND all of the little noises they make which set off the alarms for the Blind Man.
Runtime: 1 hour 28 minutes
Points of Interest: Each of the actors wore restrictive contact lenses – Stephen Lang’s were designed for low light, while the other actors wore lenses that dilated their pupils but also greatly restricted their vision. The film was originally titled A Man In The Dark.
This is one of those rare instances where doing the opposite of what works paid off in spades. Lang is a menacing villain and while it might not be obvious why he should be one from the outset, by the time you’ve finished, his purpose is clear. The twist is vital to the films success, but I can almost guarantee no one will see it coming. Get it? See it coming?
Don’t Breathe is one of those movies that I could likely make into an annual venture along with the rest of my horror film collection, but I don’t think it is infinitely re-watchable. This is to the credit of Fede Alvarez, as he has brought something shocking to the table which demands respect and proper attention. Don’t Breathe is a non-supernatural horror-thriller with a place on your shelf, just make sure to dust regularly, otherwise I recommend not breathing near your collection.