#31DaysOfHorror: Don’t Breathe (2016)

dont-breathe-posterHoping to walk away with a massive cash, a trio of thieves break into the house of a sick man who isn’t as helpless as he seems.

Just about half way through my #31DaysOfHorror, and today we’re looking at the 2016 Fede Alvarez film Don’t Breathe. If that name sounds familiar, it’s likely because you’ll remember his feature debut with 2013’s remake of Evil Dead. While many had issues with that remake, some valid and some just a general hatred for remakes, but I was a big fan of that film, and was genuinely excited to see what Alvarez gave us next. I mean, it doesn’t get much better than a battle with a demon while it’s literally raining blood, I can’t imagine what else you could possibly need.

So, how does he fair this time around? Don’t Breathe is written by Alvarez, and his writing partner Rodo Sayagues, who worked on Evil Dead and Alvarez’s previous short films. It’s easy then, because of what Evil Dead was, to expect this to be another over-the-top festival of gore and monsters, but perhaps the first surprise this movie offers is how absolutely reserved it is, in comparison.

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While not free of disturbing moments, one in particular will surely illicit a reaction out of many viewers, even at it’s most upsetting it feels significantly more mild than the previous film. This is actually kind of a nice thing to see, it shows that Alvarez is so much more than yet another gore-horror director (ahem… Eli Roth) and has bigger ideas and more subtle ideas that he wants to play with, and while he does achieve something pretty solid here, it still manages to feel a bit lacking at the same time.

It’s possible that one of the issues with this film is the performances, as well as the dialogue the characters spew throughout the film. The motley crew of robbers that the film attempts to make the heroes of the story, are played by Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps), Daniel Zovatto (It Follows), and Jane Levy (Evil Dead) and the three make up some pretty standard stock horror characters. You have the badass rebel in Zovatto, who almost feels like he could have played his character in It Follows the same way, you have the “thief with the heart of gold” in Minette, and the “I will do anything to get away from my horrible family” character in Levy, who gives a disappointing follow up to her performance as Mia in Evil Dead.

The three of them feel like flat characters who are disguised as interesting anti-heroes through lazy characterizations and simplistic back stories. I’m not saying  that more time should have been spent developing them, but it’s such a clear attempt to make them seem more interesting when they really aren’t.

The highlight is absolutely Stephen Lang (Avatar) as the blind man. He’s an intense and frightening presence with a voice that sounds like he’s been gargling rocks and glass. He also delivers a pretty excellent and spooky performance as a blind character, though he does seem to move around his home inexplicably quickly, which was a bit of an issue for me. He seems to have the teleportation powers of Jason Voorhees, despite being a “real” person.

While I did have some problems with the characterization, I did find Don’t Breathe to be a pretty fascinating look at the lengths people might go in desperation, and it does so by setting the film in a place that is really struggling in this way, Detroit. Now, I know very little about Detroit, or about the kind of desperation and struggle people there might be going there, however, showing the city as slowly becoming a ghost down in the heart of a massively populated country does make for a genuinely interesting setting.

I can absolutely understand why people found themselves drawn to this movie, the closed setting, and the reveal is actually a bit disturbing, if not feeling a bit disturbing for disturbing’s sake. The film does go on a bit too long in the end, with two stacked endings that would have worked without having them both. Essentially a character escapes, only to be dragged back to the house to escape again, and seemingly this is all in the name of paying off a story about the character’s childhood, rather than necessary to telling the story.

With that aside, I do still recommend this Don’t Breathe. The horror releases this year haven’t been great, but the ones that work are worthy of your support. I would say that this one is worth your time and checking out, in spite of itself. I still look forward to Alvarez continuing to produce interesting horror, and hopefully he will continue to improve and this is not the height of his ideas.

MY RATING: ****

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