A devious thriller entailing the survival of a trio of thieves after targeting a victim they should never have considered.
Don’t Breathe is a chilling venture into the world of a blind marine veteran; a world of complete darkness. After its debut in 2016, Don’t Breathe soon became a must-see movie for horror fans all over the world. With its unique approach to cinematography and it’s marvellous sound design, its reputation soon began to proceed it.
Set primarily within one house, Don’t Breathe is an astonishing example of how visual and audio cues can be manipulated for effect. A group of young and inexperienced petty criminals make the foolish mistake of assuming a blind elderly man would make an easy next target. After breaking into the property they discover too late that their victim is anything but. Soon the three are fighting for their escape as they come to understand that their target is certainly not the handicap in this situation. With the lights turned off our protagonists are trapped, stumbling and crawling for any kind of indication of space.
An uneasy offering of sensations for our own senses, this film bids the viewer an almost claustrophobic involvement in the story at hand. The Blind Man (so aptly credited) portrayed by Stephen Lang, is an intimidating and aggressive presence, a display of talent that will tempt the audience to hold their breath alongside the actors on screen to avoid detection. Lang’s portrayal of the Blind Man is intense and unnerving, providing a complex character that is hard to support. After all… they broke into his house, so surely they are the bad guys?
As the viewer I felt a great sense of unease as though it were myself trespassing; this was generated through clever cinematography choices and devious camera movements. Swift action and continuous shots, artfully dodging corners and doorways, ensuring an uncomfortable feeling that danger is about to tap you on the shoulder. Even as the viewer we never really see the entire scene at any one time. We are encouraged to listen with bated breath and find ourselves willing the camera to move ever so slightly so we could see into that open doorway. These clever manipulations create an environment of complete discomfort; there is no hope for dramatic irony in Don’t Breathe, it’s simply not a luxury we are allowed.
Don’t Breathe showcases the importance of superb sound design in film, especially within the horror genre. The sound mixing was undeniably a key aspect contributing to the growing tension and resulting turbulence of the narrative. The faint detection of breath, the eerily silent standoffs and the intricate visuals brought to life, partnered with its deafening sound, add to the films unnerving delivery. A cat and mouse story more chilling than most, Don’t Breathe thrives on the simple interpretation of the home invasion narrative.
Director Fede Alvarez had demonstrated previously that he is a very capable individual, following the acclaimed remake of Evil Dead. Alvarez became one to watch and once again had teamed up with the talents of writer Rodo Sayagues, producers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, composer Roque Baños, and actress Jane Levy for Don’t Breathe. This applauded team clearly work like a well-oiled machine and had managed to pull off another thriller set to put audiences on the edge of their seat.
I personally chose this movie for our 31 Days of Horror for its ingenuity and execution. Delivering a confident and unique story that questions morality, as the intruders become the victims and audiences find themselves conflicted. Do you support the man defending his home (who also happens to a completely unhinged psychopath) or the home intruders who were willing to break the law in hopes of financial reward? Don’t Breathe hands me a moral compass that slowly turns the needle in alternating directions throughout the movie. A tantalising moral journey that leaves audiences conflicted, uncomfortable and possibly distressed. The climax of the movie is gross and disturbing, to say the least (if you search Don’t Breathe into YouTube you’ll surely find a search prediction that will point you in the right direction).
To conclude, Don’t Breathe had some questionable narrative points, mainly consisting of “just missed them” moments, but overall, it offers the audience a tense and promising thriller that addresses some very unexpected questions about vulnerability, confidence and the alarming nature of human behaviour and entitlement.
THIS REVIEW IS PART OF OUR #31DAYSOFHORROR FEATURE WHICH IS RUNNING ALL THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. CHECK OUT THE OTHER ENTRIES.
Maggie has been a film critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018. Maggie gained a BSc in Film Production and Technology leading to her most notable credit for the production designer for a short film screened as part of the London Film Festival line up.