Don't Breathe Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Directed by Fede Alvarez
Written by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues
2016, 88 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 16th January 2017
Stephen Lang as The Blind Man
Jane Levy as Rocky
Dylan Minnette as Alex
Daniel Zovatto as Money
Hoping to score a quick and easy buck, a gang of rapscallion ghetto kids break into an old blind man’s home to rob him of the cash they are convinced he has stashed there. In a development which will surprise no-one who has seen Blind Fury, Zatoichi or Daredevil (or even The Simpsons), the old man is not the easy target he appears to be and wastes little time in punishing the petty criminals for their bad behaviour. But, lest we sympathise with him too much, there is a twist... yes, the already infamous bit with the turkey baster.
Fede Alvarez’s follow-up to his surprisingly well-received Evil Dead remake is a similarly bleak and brutal twist on the home invasion movie, bringing back the former’s star (the great Jane Levy, now on the road to becoming Fede’s own Bruce Campbell) in a different kind of role. As the scrappy young Rocky, Levy gets to be the sympathetic one amongst a relatively small cast of undesirables (stealing that distinction from The Blind Man, once he goes full caricature). Dylan Minnette’s Alex is obviously supposed to be the nice one who proves that the young thieves aren’t all bad, but I found myself hating him most of all (if not for his irritating face, but because his Facebook feed probably utilises the word ‘friendzone’ quite a lot). Even with Levy’s doe-eyes and unassuming charisma, they’re all a pretty detestable bunch, no matter what The Blind Man does to them.
It’s as though Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues realised that The Blind Man (I’m not being rude, that’s literally how he’s listed in the credits) was far too sympathetic, and so decided to throw in the worst thing they could think of to turn the audience against him. Fair play, the mid-movie ‘twist’ works well in achieving this, but it doesn’t make Minnette any less punchable after the fact. I was still left cheering at the prospect of seeing him get eaten by a dog or bashed to a pulp by The Blind Man. Rocky, I wanted to see escape, but I suspect that’s more down to Levy’s considerable prowess as an actress rather than the film’s character work.
Don’t Breathe is a modern white version of The People Under the Stairs by way of Marcus Dunstan’s Collector movies, but sadly not as good as either. I loved Alvarez’s Evil Dead and had anticipated this one more than any other horror film in 2016, but it’s ultimately a disappointment. The film’s biggest sin is its inconsistencies in depicting The Blind Man and his ‘powers’. One minute he’s stalking through the house like a sinewy Jason Voorhees, shooting kids dead and beating them to a paste – the next he seems to be utterly oblivious until it’s time for our ‘heroes’ to stumble upon another set piece. The film has no fun with Evil Daredevil’s (Scaredevil!) senses either, in spite of it setting up that the youths are smokers and having them pad around the house in their socks. There’s an alternative, smarter version of Don’t Breathe out there in which Lang tracks down his prey by following the scent of their cheesy feet and cigarette breath.
Which is not to say that the film is a complete waste. As one would expect, Stephen Lang is excellent in it, and The Blind Man is genuinely terrifying at times. Basement scenes in which the kids stumble around in the dark like a Silence of the Lambs version of a Scooby Doo chase are wonderfully tense, and the later action sequences are breathless and properly unpredictable. As though Stephen Lang wasn’t scary enough by himself, there’s a bastard of a dog too, which provides the film with the best People vs Dog horror I’ve seen since Cujo.
Regarding the twist, you’ll have to make your own mind up on that one (if it hasn’t already been spoiled for you, with all that turkey baster talk). I’m of the mindset that one shouldn’t spoil a film’s twist just because you’re not a fan of it (looking at you, Passengers critics), so I won’t do so here. It is an offensive one, though, and I can see why it might turn many off the film. Is it worth it for the gag-inducing punchline? You’ll have to decide that for yourself too, although I did genuinely laugh out loud when it happened.
High on atmosphere and thrills, but deeply lacking in brains, Don’t Breathe is a disappointment. It has the potential for true greatness – Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, a promising new director – but languishes it on muddled storytelling, crap character work and multiple bad endings. Thankfully, what it does do well, it does well enough that we can almost turn (groan) a blind eye to the rest.