A title like Don’t Breathe would have had me worried over what I was going to get out of this, for it only gave the appearance of a gimmick. In all seriousness though, holding one’s breath during Don’t Breathe may be simple enough but I’m wondering how long trying to go without hyperventilating can last because that was my experience when I was watching Don’t Breathe: I was hyperventilating. Part of which arises from how 2016 has proven itself a great year for horror films in recent memory, and another coming out from how the sorry state of mainstream horror films has drastically risen back to another high through Don’t Breathe. For a film whose title tells their audience “don’t breathe,” a lot of it is set to commence, but by that, I’m foreseeing much hyperventilation while it goes.
The film sets up a clear image for our protagonists within the opening sequence, but I feel as if what we are to make of these characters from here adds up to the excitement that rode all the way through Don’t Breathe. It’s something that can fly by as the most effective moments of the film are presented, but it certainly is something that needs to be addressed, our lead characters and their goal: to rob a blind man of money which he supposedly is keeping inside of his house makes them terrible people. Yet there’s a reason I can easily look past this, because it adds up more to the tension of consequence. We do have a more sympathetic background given to them, but if you can already determine that what they intend to do brings them to a point that they deserve, there’s a reason things are made all the more exciting.
Stuff primarily gets exciting from the introduction of Stephen Lang’s blind man, who presents the obstacle which our protagonists must get through. But eventually, Fede Alvarez works around creating a side of sympathy for him just as he does for the protagonists of his story, and that’s where things begin to get interesting as more revelations come by: you are left unsure of whom you are supposed to root for. Our protagonists and our main antagonist are both terrible people on both ends that have their fair share sympathetic backgrounds, and in turn it creates more of a challenge for the viewers. Whose morals and intentions are more reprehensible? As more revelations come by, it all ends up making Don’t Breathe far more intriguing than how it is made to sound from its own core. It is not a film that glorifies either side of the spectrum, even if one must prevail.
In Evil Dead (which I thought was far better than it had any right to be), Fede Alvarez’s goal was to exploit as much as he can with gore as a means of, in some way, capturing the spirit of the original films. In Don’t Breathe, sound is key to the tension. Sound is what creates the senses of jolt from the viewer, and Don’t Breathe‘s utilization of said aspect makes awards the film the jump scares which it presents, for Fede Alvarez’s direction provides something that gives reason for these jump scares to come by. Alvarez leaves minimal dialogue to come by, but it adds up to why Don’t Breathe remains just as tight as it presents itself to be. Alvarez’s methods, whether it be from how he uses sound and lighting, make him a voice for the horror genre to look out for within the future.
One is to label the underrated Stephen Lang as the film’s standout, playing the blind man. His presence is indeed terrifying, and even with that said, it was not my favourite performance in the film. Instead, I pass that label onto Jane Levy, who already has me convinced that she is set to become one of the best scream queens of a new generation for horror films. The fear that she expresses on her face can be felt, no matter what the moment may be. It’s this performance that stands out because even with the simple idea she carries in her being a terrible person especially with what had drawn her to robbing Stephen Lang’s house together with two friends, it is the terror of realization that defines the character. She, together with Dylan Minette, had many fantastic moments whenever they were sharing the screen with each other.
Don’t Breathe is a film that does not rely upon jump scares in order to get a sense of jolt from the audiences. The effectiveness of Don’t Breathe comes from how it presents a situation in which you are unsure of the environment that you are watching, given as both sides of the spectrum are terrible people in some sense. It doesn’t need a cheap jump scare, but instead it earns them through the greatest asset which it carries: uncertainty. You would think that there is a gimmick that defines Don’t Breathe based upon the way the synopsis sounds, but Fede Alvarez never sinks down to that low, to which I commend very highly. If the title, “don’t breathe” is already presenting a challenge for its viewers, this will be the bigger one: don’t hyperventilate.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Sony.
Directed by Fede Alvarez
Screenplay by Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Produced by Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert, Fede Alvarez
Starring Jane Levy, Dylan Minette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 88 minutes