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Don't Breathe (2016)
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by Jay Seaver

"Steals a few more thrills than one might expect."
4 stars

The interesting, if not always good, thing about "Don't Breathe", it's that it's just creative enough that it doesn't need to push the envelope with gore in order to make an impression on the audience, but for the sake of surprise still escalates, just in a different direction. It is, by and large, what you'd call successful in its aim, twisting something familiar into a movie that comes by its jumps fairly and often, even if a bitter may disapprove of how it gets there.

Though in real life, Detroit is on something of an upswing, there are still areas where the one occupied house is surrounded by abandoned units. Those houses are being burgled by three young people - Alex (Dylan Minnette), who swipes the alarm codes from his dad's security company; Rocky (Jane Levy), the best friend on whom he has an obvious crush; and Money (Daniel Zovatto), Rocky's boyfriend - trying to amass enough cash to set themselves up in sunny California. Alex is careful, making sure that their crimes don't rise to the legal threshold of a felony, but Money has found the proverbial Big Score, a blind widower (Stephen Lang) with no neighbors who likely has a lot of cash from a wrongful-death settlement in the house. That the house is locked down so tight indicates that the money is almost certainly there - but also that its owner is more formidable than he seems.

Aside from a brief flash-forward at the start, director Fede Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues take a little bit of time getting the crew to the house, and that set-up is a bit more frustrating than it needs to be. There's an opener where we see how they usually rob a place, and is not a bad example of establishing characters and relationships through action, but after that, we're either given too much or too little: We see Rocky with the cute little sister and useless mother (with am equally unemployed boyfriend), and it almost creates too much sympathy, especially with Alex being played a little too nice - we see how he swipes his father's codes but it seems like the film could use something that plays up either how he's betraying his family to impress people who don't actually like him that much or that he's not as sweet as he seems. If the group had arrived at the house with some sort of strong internal conflict, a palpable desperation, or even a starker amorality, then maybe the filmmakers still have to push an envelope to position them as the protagonists compared to the villainous homeowner (just read practically any comments section to see how many people will shrug off people getting killed if they've committed any sort of offense), maybe that plot device feels a little less trivialized in an attempt to get the audience pulling in the right direction.

Once Alvarez has got things moving, he's very good at keeping them going. He and his co-conspirators establish the house as a carefully customized snare trap with efficiency, and he turns out to be devilishly good at making the audience feel like they've had a clear look at everything to the point where the savvy viewer notes that he's showing a crawlspace so it won't feel like a cheat later only to still have a few surprises stashed away. He stages conventional scares and action well, and the clever combination of inverting and embracing the tropes of a blind person having to deal with sighted adversaries gives the film a coiled spring that could toss a surprise out at any point.

The young cast is a pretty decent group - Daniel Zovatto and Dylan Minnette play obvious opposites vying for Rocky's affection, creating an antagonism that feels genuine but doesn't overpower the rest of the film and making them close enough to each other that it's not hard to see her liking both. Jane Levy gets a more fully-defined character than either, though, and doesn't rely on that to make Rocky interesting; she always seems to be thinking about a little more than just what's in front of her, and has terrifically expressive body language and facial expression when the action requires everyone to stay still and quiet to avoid tipping Lang's character off. It's Lang, though, that moves to the center of the movie, playing the rare sort of slasher villain that doesn't need to hide in the shadows. The part takes great advantage of Lang's intimidating physique and experience with domineering characters,but Lang also captures how this guy is also a paranoid shut-in - there's something off about his voice, like he's not used to dealing with other people, and he shows a odd impulse to seek approval even when violently acting against him.

Alvarez, Sayagues, Levy, and producers Sam Raimi & Robert Tapert also made the recent "Evil Dead" remake, and while neither is perfect, both have hooks that allows them to approach familiar material from a slightly different direction and really start to cook once the set-up is done. They still haven't made their masterpiece, but this one is an entertaining and intense little thriller that certainly does its most important jobs well.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=30504&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/01/16 20:03:19
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 South by Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2016 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Bruce Campbellā€™s Horror Film Festival For more in the 2016 Bruce Campbellā€™s Horror Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/09/17 morris campbell killer realistic horror 4 stars
2/12/17 morris campbell tense & scary 4 stars
10/27/16 Langano Better than most horror films. 3 stars
8/27/16 orpy Once again, Orpy has been hoodwinked by reviews. 2 stars
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  26-Aug-2016 (R)
  DVD: 29-Nov-2016


  DVD: 29-Nov-2016

Directed by
  Fede Alvarez

Written by
  Fede Alvarez
  Rodo Sayagues

  Jane Levy
  Dylan Minnette
  Stephen Lang
  Daniel Zovatto
  Jane Graves
  Katia Bokor

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