Posted August 26, 2016 by Daniel Hodgson in
Trapped in a house, three young hoodlums play a deadly game of hide-and-seek in Don’t Breathe, a terrifying suspense thriller from Fede Alvarez, the director of 2013’s Evil Dead.
And I do mean terrifying. During a certain scene, I was physically shaking with fear for the heroine, Rocky (Jane Levy), a pretty teen who’s turned to theft as a way out of the dying city of Detroit. She and her friends Money (Daniel Zovatto) and Alex (Dylan Minnette) break into the home of The Blind Man (Stephen Lang), intent on robbing his safe, which is rumored to hold $300,000.
The Blind Man, a war vet, locks them in and hunts them from room to room, using his keen sense of smell and hearing to track them like animals. Trained for combat, armed with a gun, The Blind Man can easily kill the teens if he knows where they are, which forces them to follow a set of rules. Don’t move when he’s near. Don’t make a sound. Don’t breathe.
Breaking these rules means certain death, in ways too brutal to put into print. Don’t Breathe is gritty, brutal, and violent, but is it a horror film? It resembles one, but I would argue it is not. True, it does show—in realistic detail—the consequences of bodily harm, but does not dwell on them, focusing instead on the long, dreadful moments before. Don’t Breathe is about the threat of violence, rather than the violence itself, making it a suspense film. In that regard, it is the very definition of intense.
The film takes place in an abandoned neighborhood, with The Blind Man being the sole resident on the block. The Blind Man’s house is like an urban cabin in the woods, an isolated place where the teens should not go, where evil lurks. Behind a locked door in the house lies a secret, one The Blind Man would kill to protect.
The Blind Man is a tragic and sympathetic figure, who has lost his sight and much more. Years of built-up dirt on the wall reveals where a cross once hung; he lost his faith in God, and not without good reason.
There comes a moment where Rocky comes face-to-face with The Blind Man, who explains how the horrible deed he is going to commit upon her is, in his view, fair and just. She is utterly helpless and alone, and I could not have felt more frightened for her. That she is able to create that level of empathy is a credit to Levy’s outstanding performance, which is one of the finest so far this year.
Is Rocky alone? There might or might not be a God watching this happen. If there is, it is a God that allows it to happen, one who gives us freedom of choice, to do good or evil. Don’t Breathe is, strangely, a spiritual film, one that let’s you believe what you want to, depending on if you believe in signs or take mere coincidences as just that. Myself, I don’t believe in coincidences. 5 out of 5 stars.