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Once the audience sees the disturbing opening shot of Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe, they will immediately know that they are in for one of the most tension filled, claustrophobic, well-written films to arrive in theaters in years.
Don’t Breathe’s premise is simple yet super effective. Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto) rob houses for money. Their process is streamlined by the fact Alex’s father works for a security company and he has access to all the alarm codes for the houses they rob. Like most movie thieves, they long for that one big score that will enable them to stop stealing. As luck would have it, that one big score has arrived in form of a tip from Money. There is a home owned by a Army vet (Stephen Lang), who is the recipient of a large settlement that came from a terrible accident. After further investigation, they discover that the vet is blind and makes the decision to rob the house while he is still home. Soon upon entry, the thieves soon find out that they have made the worst mistake of their lives.
Don’t Breathe takes place almost entirely inside of one house, a small house, which immediately makes gives the film a claustrophobic tone. You’re already scared as a result of the events that are happening, but you’re also scared to breathe because you literally feel like you are trapped in that house along with the characters. The thieves make choices that are not necessarily smart, but realistic. If any human being were in that situation trying to survive, they would make the same decisions. The thieves are not perfect, they are flawed, and remain so. Their motives do not change, they do not all of sudden get this brilliant plan that no average human being would dream up in a highly stressful situation, their goal is to get out of that house, and the Army vet will not let them.
The biggest strength and the best part of the movie is the casting of Stephen Lang as the blind Army vet. He has such great physicality, and an intimidating presence that you do not notice or care that his dialogue is extremely limited. And when he does speak his few lines, he puts the fear of God in you. There is some exposition about his character, but it doesn’t explain his actions but it makes them even more sinister because one can sense the intense pain behind them.
There are a couple of truly unexpected twists in Don’t Breathe, that do something that most horror movie twists don’t do these days, it made the film scarier. They are jump scares, but the scares are earned and are not used just for startling the audience. There is another particular scene that takes place completely in the dark that is so well shot and paced so well that takes place around the third act, that I really did could not tell how the characters were going to make it out alive.
The only complaint that I really have about the film was the ending. It’s not even a strong complaint, I just felt that the last two minutes could have been left out.
Don’t Breathe is a great horror movie. A movie about a terror inside a house that manages to keep you on pins in needles without any gore or any ghosts.