Review: Don't Breathe
Solid in its conception, but flawed in its execution, Don't Breathe is the quintessential mixed bag. On paper, it sounds fairly original, but on screen, it quickly devolves into a series of jump scares and common horror tropes. I can't really say I blame them for not reinventing the genre. If it were easy, every movie would do it. But at the same time, I can't help but feel like they squandered an A+ idea with a C+ effort.
The film opens by establishing our tight knit trio of home invaders: Money, Alex and Rocky. Money and Rocky are a couple, with Alex serving as the third wheel with a potential unrequited crush on Rocky. Alex is also the brains of the operation and the one whose father works for the home-security company that allows them to break into people's homes with a certain insider's ease.
Rocky and Money have their sites set on moving to California, while Alex is reluctant to leave his dad. To do so, they need money. They choose their next home invasion target after hearing there is an elderly man who received a large settlement when his daughter was killed in a car crash. For inexplicable reasons, they believe he has the cash in the house. When they learn the man is blind, they are hesitant, but Money insists on going through with it because "that don't make him no saint, bro."
They gain entry into the house in the middle of the night using a device that turns off the man's security system. Once inside, the trio faces twists and turns and new information that might make them regret choosing this house.
This film is a part of a recent trend that has incorporated disability into otherwise traditional horror narratives. Another film of this ilk is Hush, where a deaf woman is trapped in a cabin as a killer tries to get in. This trend reflects a generally positive direction for the genre; employing real life complications provides greater complexity to somewhat stale narratives. The fact that these sensory elements (hearing and sight) can also serve to amp up the tension is just an added benefit.
And while the film does do some adventurous things with the lack of sight (grayscale nightvision, for instance), it constantly felt like it could have done more. Instead, it relies on several well-timed gunshots and various other loud noises to create jump scares that start to feel routine after a while. Very little is done to give texture (which can create actual fear) to the blind man who becomes their captor and is out for blood.
I also wasn't particularly fond of any of the people we are meant to root for. While we are supposed to feel bad for their economic plight and home situations in Detroit, I can't help but imagine those in far worse conditions in Detroit. These three kids are out robbing people's homes using advantages they have through one of their fathers' line of work. Not particularly sympathetic, which makes it hard to feel like the stakes are all that high when they face terror.
The camera work in the film is top-notch, with some Hitchcockian shots thrown in for good measure. That they aren't serviced by a better plot is a disappointment. The antagonist winds up going down a path of anti-religion, anti-woman nonsense that isn't particularly necessary. A more realistic and well-reasoned character might have given the entire affair a little more bite. Instead we end up with another cartoonish lunatic instead of confronting the horror in all of us.
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