A while back, I remember watching an interview with Stan Lee (they caught him in-between film cameos) about creating the blind superhero and now Netflix sensation, Daredevil. To my surprise, at the time, he was genuinely worried about how the character would be received and whether many would see it as being offensive to the visually impaired or the disabled in general. Yet the result was quite opposite. He was flooded with letters of thanks and support from people with disabilities and impairments, telling him how much of an inspiration the character was to them; some even called it life-changing. I’m pretty sure that director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead remake) won’t be getting the same treatment for making a blind man the killer/antagonist of a horror film but the results deserve that same level of praise because Don’t Breathe is an utterly blinding thriller!
Rocky (Jane Levy – Suburgatory, Evil Dead), Alex (Dylan Minnette – Prisoners, Goosebumps) and Money (Daniel Zovatto – It Follows) break into homes covered by Alex’s father’s security company to fund their dream of a new start in life. A tip-off of a blind army veteran (Stephen Lang – Avatar) with $300k of stashed cash is the score of a lifetime... but when he catches them in the act, it may just be their last.
From Half Life to The Last of Us, many video games have found great success with blind, “You have to be sneaky and quiet” monster enemies and this film taps into that well. For as much as possible, Stephen Lang stays on-screen and in-camera, placing within the perspective of the motionless and petrified kids, trying to work out if he’s aware of them or not as he slowly swings a gun passed them. This film creates a genuinely sense of uncertainty to make you question what you’re seeing. That makes for an insanely thrilling experience. With one or two exceptions (his sense of smell takes a while to wake up), the blindness concept is used consistently and effectively. Lang’s character (credited only as The Blind Man) is in his home of decades giving him the territory advantage and almost turning the concept into a prison escape setup as the kids desperately search for a way around his many security measures. Then, there is arguably the film's standout sequence:when the lights are killed within the expansive basement placing all in total darkness. It’s stunning captured via night vision filter with the fully-dilated pupils of Alex and Rocky adding to their helplessness as they all stumble around. Alvarez has also balanced things perfectly regarding the threat level of his blind bogeyman. He’s pledged as a Gulf War veteran. That plays well towards the idea of muscle memory and instincts from his combat training. So he becomes a figure that can be avoided for now but is still likely to track you down and lethal if he gets hold of you. Again the film makes outstanding usage of shock and surprise via unexpected reappearances as he outwits in an almost guerilla warfare fashion.
The story is a lot more rewarding than expected. I imagined it would be very one-note from the premise but it packs a lot more twists and developments than it seems, especially in drilling down on both the past and present of the Blind Man. However, this comes with a SERIOUS WARNING. Some of the content really is the other kind of dark. It’s difficult to detail this without spoilers but one particular topic maybe a big deal-breaker for some viewers. Seasoned horror fans will be fine but those of a more sensitive disposition are advised to check with a friend that’s seen the film first for a green light. In terms of the general horror content, it’s moderately bloody rather than gory so at no point will the contents of your stomach request an audience. Instead the scares are more psychological, scraping your nerves down to the wire any great thriller. There are some great jump-scares but (and these days, this always deserves a fist bump) they are not overused and preserve their impact.
The music and scoring also adds to the tension and suspense well; which never seem to stop once the action kicks off. In fact, you’ll probably walk about thankful for the 88-minute run time…. Another 10 minutes would have finished you off. Don’t Breathe also joins one of 2016's most welcome trends by being a well made and captured horror film as the camera becomes almost another character within the house. This is best shown through several lengthy tracking shots swooping in and out of rooms and hallways (a la Daredevil’s infamous hallway sequence), which really help preserve the film’s momentum, allowing it to easily build towards payoff moments.
Stephen Lang has made a very public campaign to play Cable in Deadpool 2. This maybe his best argument yet as he makes his Blind Man look and feel like a complete grizzled badass. He even has very few lines but still feels like the deepest character onscreen, especially in the final act. Jane Levy makes it two for two with Alvarez after also starring in Evil Dead and like before, they make a good couple. Levy’s biggest contribution by far, is her early scenes that sell the groups benevolent burglary agenda (having enough money for her and her little sister to escape their neglectful alcoholic mother). Dylan Minnette continues to be having a good 2016. Just like Goosebumps, he’s both likeable and convincing in his role the moral compass being pulled astray by his feelings for Rocky. Daniel Zovatto is the only casting grey area, not adding a great deal.
Watching Don’t Breathe is the equivalent of being a meat locker carcass taking a pummeling from Rocky Balboa. It is a brutal psychological assault but my God, it is a magnificent cinematic experience that will stimulate fears and emotions you didn’t know existed within you. If you’re not looking for such intensity, then this film is not for you (check out Hell or High Water is a minor-themed thriller instead) but if you’re a Thorpe Park-going thrill seeker, then this ride has your name on it. In short…. It’s absolute blinder!
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