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Don’t Breathe thriller review

Josh Brewer, August 26, 2016, at 10:15 p.m. Tweet to: @theJWBrewer


Title: Don’t Breathe
Director: Fede Alvarez
Writer(s): Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Release Date: August 26, 2016
Cast: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang

Don’t Breathe Cliff’s Notes

A trio of small time thieves gets a tip that a blind army vet has 300k in his derelict Detroit home. They decide to relieve him of it. He decides to stop them.

Lecture

So, that was refreshing! Don’t Breathe, the sophomore effort from Evil Dead remake director Alverez, storms into the megaplex and I’m thrilled it’s here. The entire thing feels like a response to Evil Dead. Things here are much more controlled; the gore is toned down, the tension more even, and the entire thing feels like an exercise in horror.

The stand out here has to be the way this story unfolds over the course of an hour and a half. The twist and turns of the plot, the character revelations, and the scares are all beautifully crafted. As the running time ticks away, each and every one of the characters evolves, which means the relationship that the view has with them changes. There are no good guys here, no bad ones either. This is a film that thrives in its shades of grey, which I have to say is a welcome relief after a summer of over-produced baddies and superhero villains.

The icing on the cake is a fantastic use of both location and look. The entire piece reeks of the down and out, depressed economy that has enveloped Detroit. The location here speaks volumes about the desperation of the characters. When added to the solid script and fantastic acting choices, this truly feels like a horror flick for the times. Last, but certainly not least, the look of this film is amazing. Alverez and crew embrace the urban decay of the world around them and place them on display. The result is a beautiful film, one of the most striking I’ve seen in the genre in some time.

Acting

Levy is rapidly becoming a scream queen and rocks the house here. Here, she mixes the right amount of vulnerability and “don’t mess with me” to make her role work. Minnette does well with his friend-zoned character and usually had me pulling for him. Zovatto takes a character that could be read as one-note and adds enough to him to give a few layers. But the heavy hitter in the house is the boss known as Stephen Lang. He takes his damaged war hero character and rocks with layers and choices that are both emotionally devastating and incredibly refreshing. Because of this, he isn’t a slasher-movie villain; he is a fully developed person trying to deal with a terrible situation in the only way he knows how. Amazing work!

Directing

Alverez is in the house! His shots are beautifully composed and there are moments, especially when the script gives him a little time to calm down, that are truly striking. Also, he embraces his script’s opportunities, making every second of the flick flow into a cohesive whole that not only challenges our understanding of the characters, but also what could be described as a happy ending. Lastly, the guy rocks a massive amount of tension and knocks the scares out of the part.

Script

With the exception of an occasional plot hole, the script here is tight and mucho effective. Ultimately, there’s just enough set up to make everything land hard and, when it goes full tilt, the script for Don’t Breathe grabs you by the throat. The dialogue here is kept to a minimum but really works for the flick. Lastly, this puppy does everything it can to mess with where the audience’s sympathies fall. The shades of gray here are fantastic.

Effects

Don’t Breathe goes light on the heavy effects, but when they hit, they hurt. Bullet wounds, a trio of brutal beatings, some fantastic make-up work on Stephen Lang’s eyes all combine for a little bit of awesome.

Highlights

I loved the lights-out-in-the-basement bit. Easily the most tense part of the entire flick, the whole thing drips a little bit of white knuckle awesome. That, plus the fantastic look of the scene makes it a winner.

Lowlights

There’s not much to complain about here. Biggest peeve for me was the occasional head scratcher about the number of bullets in a gun. The only other thing that bugged me is a piece of evidence that’s left at the scene of a crime that implicates a character that they leave behind.

Final Thoughts

A lean, mean exercise in tension and atmosphere, Don’t Breathe is the real deal. A fantastic follow up to his first flick, Alvarez hits the nail on the head with this one.

Grade: A

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