#REVIEW: “DON’T BREATHE”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Three small time thieves in urban Detroit steal from the rich for quick cash. They only take small items and never take money. But when the group stumble on news that there is a wealthy Blind Man (played by Avatar’s dastardly Stephen Lang) living in an otherwise abandoned neighbourhood, they decide to make an exception. But what should be an easy heist turns into a much deadlier situation when the Blind Man fights back.
No word of a lie, Don’t Breathe is damn near-perfect. In only his second feature length film, Co-Writer/Director Fede Alvarez has crafted a relentlessly paced thriller that is downright terrifying. While it is nowhere near as viciously violent as his Evil Dead remake from 2013, it maintains the same level of intensity and adds exponentially more jump scares. His use of sound in particular is impeccable, but the production design and score are just as genuinely effective. The trailers have hinted at some of the unpleasant things that happen in this dementedly haunted house, but actually watching it unfold is an entirely different experience. When you have the audience collectively holding their breath, clutching their hands over their face and silently peering through their fingers to watch what happens next, you know you are in the hands of a master of the genre.
But everything the Film has going for it is nearly undone by one of the most preposterous and outrageous third act twists ever committed to Film. I will not spoil the absolutely baffling scene that had the audience around me nearly falling off their chairs from laughing so hard, but suffice to say it took everyone out of the chaos and terror that nearly suffocates the Film. Some will praise it as a brilliant way to push the envelope, but it struck me as just plain goofy. The scene does work in context to add some otherwise entirely absent character development. Thinking back however, I feel like Alvarez could have found a better way to express what he was going for here – especially when it has such a detrimental effect on the Film’s tone and pacing.
Silliness aside, the acting is well done across the board. We learn precious few details about any of the lead characters before they are all in the Blind Man’s house, but the actors do an incredible job of making sure we care about each of them despite their motivations. Dylan Minnette does well as the sympathetic outsider over his head. He is the one the audience will gravitate most to, and watching his struggle for survival is all the more meaningful as the Film goes on. Jane Levy, who Alvarez tortured through Evil Dead, gets put through hell again here and has a blast doing it. She seems really in tune with the insanity going on around her and plays the Film’s heroine quite well. She does not get a chance to really break bad, but helps to really sell the Film as Alvarez’s muse.
As you would imagine, Lang is the Film’s standout. He says very little beyond yelling and grunting, but he is a terrifying and imposing creature. He is wildly unpredictable in his movements, always staying one step ahead of the thieves. Lang commits to everything Alvarez asks of him, simultaneously juggling between helpless victim and delirious psychopath. This is a terrific performance that further cements his status as a great villain we desperately need to see more of.
After being let down by so many Movies this summer, Don’t Breathe feels like a breath of fresh air. It is a lean, mean and gritty thriller that shocks and scares throughout its 88-minute running time. The baffling third act twist threatens to derail the Film, but the spectacular acting from Minnette, Levy and especially Lang more than makes up for it. 2016 has been a banner year for horror, and Don’t Breathe is another terrific example.
Now if only I could get the real horror of seeing a desolate, uninhabited, overgrown and positively apocalyptic-looking Detroit city street out of my head, then maybe I would be able to breathe easier.
Sony Pictures Canada unleash DON’T BREATHE on Friday, August 26, 2016.