Monday, October 3, 2016

Don't Breathe

Don't Breathe (2016) starts off like an inverse of Wait Until Dark and becomes an update of The People Under Stairs with a touch of Cujo. Three burglars break into the home of a blind veteran to steal money he has hidden but soon discover he's not as helpless as they thought and he has a dark secret.

They should have suspected as much. The blind man is played by Stephen Lang, who can play mean and nasty better than just about anybody else working in Hollywood today. He may live alone and he may be blind, but I can believe he's capable of kicking these burglars' asses. What I can't believe is there's enough compelling material here for a feature-length film.

The premise of Don't Breathe has an elegant simplicity, but I found the movie as a whole to be padded. Maybe that's on the film's marketing, but I knew going in that the burglars - Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto) - would end up becoming trapped and terrorized. The movie takes its time getting there, showing these characters breaking into another house, discussing their hopes and dreams, and debating whether they should knock off this blind man's house and steal the money he received from a settlement after his daughter was run over and killed.

I really didn't care for this part. It's meant to foster sympathy for these criminals, but I found it manipulative and cloying, especially Rocky's story: she wants to take her kid sister away from their alcoholic mother and neo-Nazi stepfather and start a new life in California. Meanwhile, Alex, whose Dad works for a security company, which is how they get access to all these homes, doesn't want take a huge risk by going after the blind man, but he very obviously has feelings for Rocky, so he'll go along with it. Money is as douchey as you'd expect for a guy named Money to be.

The movie is at its best when it zeroes on the situation when the characters are sneaking around the blind man's house in the dark as he tries to catch these intruders. The slightest sound will give them away, whether it be harsh breathing or a creak in the floor. Director Fede Alvarez crafts a claustrophobic, intense atmosphere in these scenes. In the movie's best sequence, the blind man kills the lights in the basement, leaving Rocky and Alex in total darkness, putting them on his level and forcing them to feel around in the dark. Alvarez films this segment with a black-and-white night vision filter, so we can make out what's going on and notice as our protagonists unknowingly stumble backwards into the path of the blind man's gun.

What undercuts the tension at times is the overuse of music. In a scenario where sound is especially important, music almost isn't needed. If music is to be used, it should be minimal and subtle, but too often, I found the soundtrack to be interfering with the action when it should have been out of the way. Not that the music is bad; I just don't think it was needed.

While not as gory as Alvarez's previous film, the Evil Dead remake, Don't Breathe is a violent movie. with its fair share of blood. Everyone here takes a beating, so by the end, they're all covered with blood, drool, grime, sweat, and filth. By the end, you feel exhausted along with them, even if the worst of the violence is more suggested than depicted.

I don't dislike Don't Breathe, but I'm not wildly enthusiastic about it. I admit, for a genre movie, it's a nice change of pace from the typical found-footage, zombie, PG-13 ghost movies and remakes we've been getting ad nauseam for some time, and the film's craft and performances are well done, but the characters are unsympathetic and the scenario gets repetitive by the end.

Really, my main beef comes with the reveal. Without going into too much spoiler territory, what the blind man intends to do after his secret is out would have been a logical if disturbing place to end the movie, climaxing on a dark note implying a fate worse than death. Instead, it leads to a gross stunt that seems more fitting for the crew from Jackass and more violent but overlong action.

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