By: 3-Deep (Two Beers) –
Fede Alvarez is a hell of a rising talent. The promising filmmaker already established himself with his accomplished directorial debut, 2013’s highly respectful (and highly gory) Evil Dead remake, and he truly proves himself with Don’t Breathe, his immersive, thrilling and tense-as-all-hell sophomore film. Poised, self-attuned, and confident in ways most studio horror films are simply not, it’s a gnarly and often gripping little genre flick, with enough tension and cleverness to excuse its occasional narrative hurtles and logic leaps, particularly around the third act. Suspense-driven and prone to outlandish tendencies, Alvarez’s latest is a satisfying, skillfully well-crafted home invasion thriller that, yes, takes your breath away.
Taking a page from last year’s equally-impressive It Follows, Don’t Breathe takes us to the dingy heart of Detroit, where young criminals Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto) loot their way around town hoping to steal a better future for themselves. Money and Rocky, an item-of-sorts, have their sights set on the sunny beaches of LA. Alex, meanwhile, wants to stay home to help his father, but he also wants to follow Rocky, whom he’s rather smitten by. And they might’ve found their out when they discovere a blinded Vietnam veteran (Avatar‘s Stephen Lang) has thousands of dollars locked inside his well-secured house, which will set them all on their way straight to seclusion. Rocky, in particular, is in dire need to get out of their Michigan household, as she and her younger sister Diddy (Emma Bercovici) are trapped in the unsafe care of their drunken, neglectful, and sometimes abusive mother (Katia Bokor).
Typically, their shit is locked down tight. Alex is the lock man, Money is the brains of the operation (in the most charitable sense), and Rocky is the one that keeps it all together. They’ve broken into their fair share of houses in their days, but they will find their own plans fractured when they realize what they’re up against. As it turns out, this blinded senior-citizen is more able-bodied than he looks, and with every step heard in his rickety house, nobody is left safe when his own money safe (and own safety) is left on the balance. He might not see his intruders, but his other senses are heightened to the max, and he’s not afraid to leave a body count in his wake, especially when guns enter the equation. From there, it’s a tight and taunt home-based film, with all the same attention to single location, sound design, and character that we’ve come to expect from Alvarez since his first feature. Prepare for some demented twists and turns.
Alvarez is influenced by his peers in the best ways possible. His Evil Dead was expectedly inspired by the works of Sam Raimi, and while that same inspiration can be seen here as well (he produced both films), Alvarez also earns his fair share of comparisons to John Carpenter, Joe Dante, and even Alfred Hitchcock this time around. His work is more nimble and self-contained here, restrained just enough to let his talent flourish while also flexible enough to let his style become more expressive and distinct with each step taken within this destructive little house. There’s no deeper message in Don’t Breathe. There’s no hard-hitting morals to be found. It’s a neat, cut-and-dry horror flick lead through a clear vision and a dependable team of players. His mindful eye is complimented nicely through cinematographer Pedro Luque’s smooth camerawork, Eric L. Beason, Louise Ford, and Gardner Gould’s sharp editing, and a pair of impressive performances by Lang and Levy, all of which lead to another nail-biting, spine-tingling, heart-stopping, and also subsequently pulse-pumping new film within Alvarez’s filmography.
Don’t Breathe is a great 45-minute film that happens to be roughly 90 minutes long. It’s never bad, but after a point, it slowly starts to lose some air (no pun intended). While smart in its execution and constantly quick on its feet, there’s only so mileage Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues can get with their tight-knitted premise before it fizzles into somewhat repetitive and a little exhaustive territory. The story gets goofier and wackier, in ways both intentional and not; while I usually encourage such behavior, it feels kinda excessive this time. It muddles the tone, and it sacrifices some of the sophistication of the first half. Particularly when the narrative invites a few genre cliches and one-or-two-too-many egregious character revitalizations, you long for the effective simplicity of the first 30 minutes.
Still, Alvarez hold his cards close to his chest, not letting the audiences get too ahead of themselves and always producing a stylish product that keeps you eager and guessing what’ll come up next for our bottled young protagonists. Much like the similarly tense and also intelligently-made 10 Cloverfield Lane and Green Room earlier this year, the filmmaker remains competent, grounded, and level-headed enough to not go completely overboard, even when the film itself seems determined to go over-the-top with its stripped-down story. It knows when to stick to the basics, for the most part, and it keeps itself appealing and character-driven enough to never lose the audience in its self-contained madness.
Don’t Breathe is another impressive, innovative addition to an equally impressive, innovative filmmaker’s resume. Knuckled-down and addictively entertaining from the first frame forward, it’s further proof of the potential Alvarez establishes with his early career, while proving that he’s bound to develop and grow ever further in the years to come. Commendably straight-forward, while still leaving room for some fun and occasionally unexpected twists, it’s a graceful and noteworthy — if rather slim — film from a gifted filmmaker set to make his mark with each passing feature. I’ll be kept on my toes for what he brings next.
Don’t Breathe (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time there’s a jump scare
Take a Drink: every time someone is on the brink of death.
Take Another Drink: every time they actually die (or you think they’re dead).
Take a Drink: every time someone breathes loudly.
Do a Shot: for the big “Oh Shit!” reveal.
Do Another Shot: for the next big “Oh Shit” moment not long afterwards.