Making a good thriller is tough. I assume this at least, because most are terrible. Don’t Breathe, however, is an above average psychological thriller loaded with cheap jump-scares and cringe-worthy routines. The movie itself, directed by Fede Alvarez, does succeed at being a thriller, although it doesn’t tell a great story.
Don’t Breathe builds from utterly cliché beginnings and, thankfully, develops into something moderately unique. The premise follows three teen burglars who plan their final, ultimate robbery of a house in an abandoned Detroit neighbourhood. According to a vague folktale, a blind old war vet living by himself in a degraded ghetto for some reason sits on a buttload of cash and doesn’t keep it in the bank.
Shortly after the opening scene, a tasty flash forward of horrors to come, and a few minutes of getting to know the protagonists, we find ourselves locked in a house with an old blind man and lots of really bad luck. They can get in but they can’t get out — surprise.
I went into this movie blind (pun intended), not at all aware of what it was going to be about. It turned out to have a kind of meta feel to it because I really felt like I was part of the cast: like one of the three youngsters, I couldn’t get out soon enough. While the suspenseful plot development made the film tolerable, the silliness of the premise did everything it could to tear itself apart.
Unique to this thriller is that the antagonist, the blind man, is actually somewhat disadvantaged to the three youngsters — he can’t see anything. The protagonists do their very best to sneak past Daredevil’s creepy evil uncle, attempting multiple times to escape their botched robbery, and yet despite their advantage, they just can’t get out of that darn house. Rather than supernatural powers like his thriller-movie-antagonist contemporaries, his strength comes from playing on his home turf, but the playing field is levelled by his lack of sight — sort of. Despite this, apparently even though he can’t hear them walk right past him, he can hear them breathing from across the room well enough to shoot bullets holes through the believability.
The movie is little more than a buffet of jumpy scares and genre-specific cheap tricks. Its major redeeming quality is the cinematography itself. Multiple action shots (nightvision once the lights go out) and sweeping camera angles that build suspense much like the way creaking floorboards and sudden quietness does, creates the space for a thrilling intimacy. In developing the second act, for instance, the camera glides through the house, foreshadowing dangers and emphasizing the tight, nowhere-to-run nature of the house, adding even more claustrophobia to the theme.
Going back to the thrill of the movie, Alvarez fills scenes with the constant suspense of impending danger and the frequent release of of that tension. Obviously, this was the intention of the movie, and gauging by the gasps and screams in the theatre it was a success.
Ultimately, if you don’t like movies where everyone does the thing you tell them not to do, then you may not enjoy Don’t Breathe. Watching Don’t Breathe is an exercise in patience and tolerance for stupidity. The cast was more frustrating than anything, and while this is a trait common to horror / thriller films it would be nice to see some logical decision making. If you want to feel uncomfortable about turkey basters for the rest of your live, you won’t leave unfulfilled.
While it makes a noble attempt to thrill — and it does do that — so much of the movie’s enjoyability was lost to plot holes. Beyond the typical suspension of disbelief required for a psychological thriller of this sort, Don’t Breathe asks you to do what too many horror films seem to do: stop thinking.