The summer movie season of 2016 closes out on a high note with this taut little thriller from writer and director Fede Alvarez, the same man who brought us the Evil Dead remake from a few years back in 2013. This very low budget follow up focuses on a trio late teen/early twenty somethings from Detroit who break into people’s houses to rob them using the security codes and keys provided by Alex (Dylan Minnette) whose father works for a security company. Money (Daniel Zovatto) sells the items they steal to a fence he knows, but when the fence offers less money than they would like and when Rocky (Jane Levy) the girl both of the guys are in love with wants to get more money more quickly, Alex comes up with the idea of hitting the house of a local Gulf War veteran (Stephen Lang) who supposedly has a lot of cash holed up inside his house due to a settlement from a famous law suit years back. Saying more is starting to edge into spoiler territory, but I don’t think it’s much of a shock to say that if things go according to plan with their heist, we wouldn’t have much of a film.
Don’t Breathe is a series of good decision after good decision made by all those involved with the project. The pacing is near perfect, the camera work does a great job of capturing the claustrophobic setting without sacrificing clarity of vision, and the actors make their characters sympathetic despite (or perhaps because of) their intense character flaws. Don’t Breathe is far from flawless, the climax starts to tread into unbelievable territory, the dangers the characters are exposed to do get repetitive, and the dialogue is nothing memorable. Still, the good outweighs the bad here and we’d have a fun if forgettable end of summer tale if not for one factor which could make the movie very memorable for better or worse depending on your take, and that is the morality presented in both the plot and themes of the movie.
Don’t Breathe gives us an entire cast of completely flawed characters. The best of them are thieves that would rather not be thieves, but still do it, and this brings up a plethora of moral quandries by film’s end that can make the day of someone with a more philosophical bent, but for someone who just wants to see a movie about good overcoming evil will almost certainly leave at least partially outraged as there is no one here that one can wholeheartedly endorse as a hero. The film really is a series of bad things happening to bad people and can be taken at that level or it can become a sort of treatise on crime, punishment, justice, and human rights.
As to the movie’s hook, the fact that the primary antagonist is a blind man, the conceit of a handicapped person taking on a trio of perfectly healthy young people and still being very intimidating works quite well. It’s established that the blind man is a war veteran, that he’s still in good shape, that he’s on his home turf, and that the robbers are purely robbers and are actually afraid of the idea of actually hurting someone. Put all these factors together, that and the blind man’s Rottweiler, and you absolutely can believe that it is the young trio who are in the most trouble, and not vice-versa.
If you’ve ever found yourself saying the phrase, “I didn’t like the movie because I didn’t like any of the characters.” then this may be a film to pass over. If you’re just looking for a well paced thriller, then this is definitely one to look for eventually on streaming media, but not necessarily in the theater unless you have money burning a hole in your pocket, but if you have a bit of sophist in you, Don’t Breathe is one that can be quite thought provoking while also being very entertaining, and I highly recommend you seek it out sooner rather than later.
Rating: 6.8 out of 10