Studio: Screen Gems
Director: Fede Alvarez
Writer: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Producer: Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, Fede Alvarez
Stars: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang
Three thieves encounter much more than they expected after breaking into a dangerous blind man’s home.
One thing Fede Alvarez demonstrated with his directorial debut on “Evil Dead” 2013 (review here) is an ability to choreograph a dazzling cinematic assault on the senses like few other contemporary horror filmmakers can. However, talent for showmanship is not synonymous with talent for storytelling. With his sophomore outing “Don’t Breathe,” Alvarez again proves that while he can certainly shoot and cut a movie for maximum sleekness, all that visceral flair is only good for an illusion of momentum when the narrative has nowhere substantial to go in the first place.
Hapless hoodlums Alex, Rocky, and Money have an ideal mark in mind for their next big burglary. A disabled military vet has returned home to Detroit with a six-figure settlement and to the three thieves, he is the baby and his cash is the candy. What they fail to consider is that him being blind does not diminish his danger. Once inside the blind man’s home, the trio discovers predator has become prey, and that is only the first table-turning surprise in store as their perfect plan goes up in smoke as well as a very generous spray of blood.
Sound intriguing so far? “Don’t Breathe” might be, if not for the existence of “The Collector” (review here), “Crush the Skull” (review here), “Intruders” (review here), or any of the other similar “home invasion gone wrong” movies already littering the suburban siege subgenre.
Beaten paths are for beaten films. There is just enough of a mild mystery on hand regarding where the plot is heading and what might happen next to manufacture initial suspense. But the movie cannot sustain it since this suspense exists in a vacuum.
A skeletal script leaves “Don’t Breathe” in the lurch to tread a trail of predictable beats, e.g. crawling through ventilation ducts, groping desperately in the dark, crashing through windows, being knocked unconscious, regaining consciousness, momentarily becoming captured, momentarily escaping, becoming captured again, etc. Without a robust storyline motivating tension, all these setups amount to a heap of empty action good mainly for a cinematographer’s résumé or a stuntman’s demo reel. For the viewer, it’s a passive experience of simply observing a series of things happening to a handful of unpleasant people.
Fingers claw at armrests when audiences don’t want their heroes in harm’s way. Except no one in “Don’t Breathe” is worth gnawing a nail over, and that is a huge hump the movie cannot get past.
Anyone nicknamed ‘Money’ is unlikable on principle. Alex at least exhibits the token “good guy” conscience and Rocky has a boring background of struggling to save her sister from an abusive mother. No matter what though, they are still three crooks taking advantage of a blind veteran. Giving them a thieves’ code of honor is nowhere near enough to balance the negative characterizations working against everyone. Dylan Minnette can ride onscreen goodwill remembered from films like “Goosebumps” (review here) while Stephen Lang does the same with his recognizable screen presence. Nevertheless, they are still embodying shells with no nobler of a purpose than facilitating visual mayhem.
After an excruciatingly slow setup, “Don’t Breathe” jam packs itself with agonizing action. What it doesn’t have is any emotional force putting personality behind its punches. A majority of the wordless moments are just Jane Levy hiding with a hand over her mouth. When there is dialogue, it consists of lines like, “there’s nothing a man cannot do once he accepts the fact there is no God.” What does that even mean? Apparently, it justifies why a man can fire countless bullets in his home without any neighbors calling the police. Or how two scriptwriters can include a ridiculous twist involving a turkey baster under a mistaken assumption of cleverness without anyone calling “bullsh*t.”
Don’t bother getting excited about “Don’t Breathe.” Having previously gone by the title “A Man in the Dark,” the movie is a neatly compacted little thriller, but one with a shiny, gold-plated exterior, and hollow, stomach-rumbling interior.
Review Score: 45