The concept of home invasion is terrifying. We’ve all had at least one nightmare of someone breaking into our hose and stealing our belongings either with us without us in the house at the same time. Needless to say, this concept plays easily into horror movies, although not always very well. Films like You’re Next and Panic Room do this very well, some like Hush are just ok, while others such as When a Stranger Calls and The Collector fail miserably. The main thing about home invasion movies that has always been true is that our protagonists are always the home-owners and some outside force is coming in to ruin their day. That all changed in 2016 with the release of Don’t Breathe. Don’t Breathe hit the scene in August of 2016 and turned the horror genre and specifically the home invasion movie on its head. For the first time our protagonists were not the ones being invaded, but the ones doing the invading. Naturally I was intrigued by this premise and told myself that this was a movie I was going to have to see. Written and directed by Fede Alvarez (with a secondary writing credit going to Rodo Sayagues) the movie stars Jane Levy, Dylan Minnete, and Daniel Zovatto as our trio of thieves and Stephen Lang as the blind man they attempt to rob, but more on that later. Don’t Breathe was well-received across the board, boasting an 87% certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average critic score of 7.1 out of 10, as well as 80% from audiences giving it a 7.8 out of 10. Numbers like that got me even more pumped to watch this movie, and when I received it as a Christmas gift I knew instantly that I would have to do a written review. So, did Don’t Breathe live up to the hype? Let’s find out! Obviously, I’m going to spoil the heck out of this movie so if you care about that sort of thing go watch the movie first and come back to this. First, let’s talk expand on what I’ve already hinted at: We follow the thieves in this film. The movie is set in Detroit and it’s established almost immediately that our trio don’t like their situation and are turning to burglary to make enough money to flee to California. This is especially true for Jane Levy’s character, who we see has white trash for parents and is basically supporting her and her little sister by herself. The movie does a good job at making Jane Levy’s Rocky and to a lesser extent Dylan Minnette (who plays Alex – the friend who is clearly in love with Rocky but is stuck in the friend zone) sympathetic characters, but our third and final thief Money, played by Daniel Zovatto is one of the least sympathetic characters put to screen. He’s the boyfriend of Rocky and almost immediately I didn’t like him. He’s not an abusive boyfriend or anything cliché like that, he just isn’t particularly likable. To give credit where credit is due however, that is one of the things that makes Don’t Breathe so interesting – none of our main characters are good people. They’re the people we’ve had those nightmares about. The ones where you come home from work to find your house ransacked, your belongings in a combination of ruined or stolen. Through various circumstances Don’t Breathe runs into its first and (if I recall) last major cliché. The trio gets word of Stephen Lang’s character (only known as “the blind man”) and how he recently came into a lot of money from a settlement involving the death of his only daughter. They decide to go against their modus operandi of only stealing things covered by insurance to take this guy’s cash so they can leave Detroit. I will admit, I don’t like the trope of “we just have to do this one last job” in movies and it certainly feels weak here, but it moves the plot forward. If I’m being honest, up to this point I was kind of bored, so the fact that the movie tries to rush them into Stephen Lang’s house as quickly as possible I appreciate, because once they’re inside the movie picks up speed and never slows down again. Speaking of Stephen Lang, he’s fantastic in this movie. It isn’t easy to convincingly act blind, but he pulls it off. He doesn’t have a whole lot of dialogue, but what little bit he does have lends himself to be an almost sympathetic antagonist. I say almost because of some things that happen later in the movie, but we’ll get to that. The rest of the actors, while they aren’t fantastic they aren’t terrible either. I will say that out of the trio of thieves Jane Levy has the greatest acting ability, but they all do well enough that I didn’t notice any particularly bad performances. Don’t Breathe also offers some killer (get it!?) cinematography. Since almost the entire movie takes place inside the same house you’d expect to get bored seeing the same batch of rooms over and over, but this film does a great job of keeping it fresh. From something as simple as seeing the same room from a different angle almost every time you enter it to making a lot of tight shots causing intense feelings of claustrophobia to utilizing the entire house from the main floor, upstairs, the basement, and even inside the walls, this movie is filled with great shots, angles, and lighting. Speaking of lighting and utilizing all parts of the house, the single greatest scene in the movie takes place in the basement. By this point in the movie Stephen Lang has already killed Money, leaving Rocky and Alex to try and escape. They wind up in the basement and Stephen Lang kills the power plunging the house – and the movie – into total darkness. What follows is some of the scariest and most intense 5 minutes I’ve seen put to film. Alex and Rocky are trying to find their way through the basement in utter blackness, and the camera goes black and white so we can still see what’s going on. Stephen Lang is able to maneuver the basement effortlessly just as he is with the rest of his house, thanks to objects he has memorized to tell him where he is, essentially like land marks. He also has a gun in this scene so every time he hears a noise is firing in that general directions which throws the frame into full color for a split second before being swallowed by the darkness. The film-making in this scene is pure brilliance and nothing I can say will do it complete justice so I’m just going to move on. Remember how I said earlier that Stephen Lang was almost a sympathetic antagonist? For most of the movie I felt that he was. He was just a blind guy trying to defend himself and his home from invaders. The basement scene changes that perspective entirely when we learn that he has kidnapped the girl that killed his daughter and his holding her prisoner in his basement. Already that seems pretty creepy but we learn once that girl is dead and he captures Rocky that he had impregnated her in the hopes that she would give him a child to replace the one she took from him. This brings us to the most uncomfortable scene in the movie where he prepares to impregnate Rocky via turkey baster because he’s “not a rapist.” Thankfully it doesn’t happen but the movie forces you to watch as he pulls a container from the fridge (you know what’s in it), heats it up, and loads the turkey baster. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get that scene out of my mind. I will say that one other thing that disappointed me about Don’t Breathe is that Rocky ends up getting away in the end with the money! I would have liked it very much if Stephen Lang had killed all three of them, but the ending wasn’t completely unsatisfying. Overall I think this is a fantastic horror film, quite possibly the best in the last decade. Was it good enough to make my top 5 best movies of 2016? You’ll have to stay tuned to the main show to find that one out! What did you think of Don’t Breathe? I’d love it if you left me a comment and let me know!
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