I’m not one for horror movies. They just don’t scare me. When I do jump, if at all, it’s usually because of a loud noise. You know the sort; lazy film-makers and producers who don’t have the gumption and craft to build up any kind of tension and atmosphere and so rely on cheap thrills and ‘scary’ screams and shrieks. Thankfully, young Uruguayan director Federico Alvarez, best known for his Evil Dead reboot, has the skills necessary to make the audience hold their breath for the duration of this tense piece of claustrophobic cinema.
Rocky, Alex and Money – played respectively by Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette and Daniel Zovatto – are three Detroit delinquents who make a living by breaking into houses secured by Alex’s father’s security firm and then selling the goods they steal. The buyer of said good, an associate of Money’s, doesn’t give them a fair price and not nearly enough to fund Rocky’s dream of leaving Detroit behind for California with her little sister. Rocky definitely has more motivation and reason than her friends in that she wants to escape from her neglectful mother and her alcoholic father. A brief back-story does make us sympathise a little with Rocky. She isn’t a particularly bad person (although she’s a thief) and one can understand, in a way, her actions. Alex is the most cautious of the three and seems to genuinely care for Rocky, whereas Money, her boyfriend and refers to Rocky as his “bitch”, isn’t the most likeable character.
The three get a tip to rob a house in a run-down, abandoned area of the city. The house belongs to a Army veteran who lives alone and received $300,000 from the family of a young rich girl who apparently killed his daughter in a car accident. Rocky, Alex and Money also learn that the man is blind and decide to break into his house at night.
The idea of blindness in horror films isn’t an original concept. We’ve seen it before with Wait Until Dark (1967) and more recently, Julia’s Eyes (2010). And the home invasion set-up has been done countless times before too. However, despite this, Don’t Breathe’s sound design and editing make it better than your average horror/thriller flick. It’s a stripped down piece of claustrophobic, low budget, high intensity movie making and it’s very watchable, very engaging and entertaining. Unfortunately, it runs out of steam in the final third. I sat there constantly thinking: “Oh it’s wrapping up now; this is where the thing happens.” Wrong. Ten minutes later: “Oh, there’s another obstacle in the way.”
And so on…
It does become laboured, and the final fifteen minutes are a bit of a gross out. There’s a couple of things I didn’t expect – these didn’t add anything to the plot though – and it did undo a little of the great work over the first two acts. It’s hard to be too critical of Don’t Breathe though. Good direction, taut sound design, atmospheric music and generally good performances from its young cast, give us a very solid horror film.