Monday, August 29, 2016

A Reel Review: DON'T BREATHE

Of all the different genres in cinema, the horror-movie seems to be the one which has never advanced past its usual storylines of vampires, ghosts, possessions, slashers, and home-invasions. Maybe it’s because those are the crucial elements of the genre, but over the past decade have become very old-feeling and stale. For director Fede Alvarez and his newest, DON’T BREATHE, the solution to this problem could not be simpler.

Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto), are three delinquents living in what’s left of suburban Detroit who make a living as burglars. They break-and-enter into the house of an old blind man (Stephen Lang), after hearing rumors of a fortune inside…

The home-invasion storyline has been an effective one in horror for many years. After all, there’s nothing more frightening than being threatened in our own homes, our comfort zones, by something that’s uninvited. The old trope usually centers on a family or helpless person being threatened by invaders, but Fede Alvarez, who last directed the 2013 EVIL DEAD remake, literally turns the tables by suddenly making the invaders who are the ones under threat. The old man, who is very much blind, turns out to be a war vet whose killing skills have not diminished in the least, and his handicap has turned his other senses…smell and hearing, into a powerful radar.

Not content to just let all the characters chase each other around in a spooky, dimly-lit house, Alvarez takes things several steps further by playing with our emotions. In the early goings, we’re fully prepared to hate on the three burglars who don’t think twice about robbing an old blind man, but once a second-act whopper of a twist comes around, we’re suddenly pulling for the robbers and hoping the old man gets what he deserves. There’s a lot of back-and-forth as backstories are revealed and everyone has legit reasons for robbing and other acts. It’s an emotional roller-coaster and Alvarez never puts on the brakes.

Alvarez has filmed one spooky-looking movie. The goings-on inside the house are very dim, making for a creepy atmosphere which is often injected with many well-timed jump-scares…and a pivotal scene in a maze of a basement in pitch-black is enough to scare anyone. Tension builds up nicely with satisfying payoffs and the scenes where the robbers have to hold their breath lest they be detected by the old man…will undoubtedly have audiences holding their breaths as well.

Jane Levy is the real star of the show, having to go through a wide range of emotions and having to put in some strong physical work as she is tossed around like a rag-doll and is required to crawl through tight places trying to escape. Stephen Lang puts in a powerful performance which is iconic and frightening; iconic because of the mighty shape that he throws, and scary because of how real he really is…this could be our neighbor.

Despite feeling so fresh and new, DON’T BREATHE still falls into the old horror tropes with a villain who won’t die and what seems like a thousand endings to the film. It’s far from a dealbreaker, as Fede Alvarez has crafted a horror film which is fun, scary, interesting, and far from predictable. If the horror genre is going to survive, we need more movies like DON’T BREATHE.


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