Execution is very important in filmmaking, and for a movie with a simple concept, it is everything. Good vision and execution by the right director can make an average movie good and a good movie great. Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake of Evil Dead fell a bit flat for my taste (then again I find most supernatural horror films to be bland). This time around, Alvarez has a fresh story and a chance to make his mark in the genre.
Don’t Breathe follows the lives of a group of young thieves living in a poverty stricken area of Detroit. Jane Levy stars as Rocky, a single mother living in a trailer park where she dreams of taking her young daughter away from her own emotionally abusive mother. Along with Alex (Dylen Minnette), the son of a security company owner, and her sleazy boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto), the group spends their time breaking into homes and stealing valuables. When Money gets a tip about a reclusive blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) housing $300,000, the group conspires to rob him. The only problem is the old man is anything but a helpless old man and his house is no ordinary home.
The concept isn’t mind blowing, but Don’t Breathe manages to click as fine entertainment because of its subtlety and focus on tone. We don’t have to wait long for things to get going and the movie isn’t cluttered with annoying characters that don’t serve a purpose. Focusing more on its eerie, threatening situations and not so much on gore or random jump scares, allows the movie to feel less like a generic horror and more like a thriller. Being trapped in an old, rickety house with a murderous blind man with relatively acute senses is a terrifying scenario, so even if you don’t care about any of the pieces involved, you can certainly feel their fear.
The way Alvarez shoots the film really helps it feel more suspenseful. Shots are kept in relatively close quarters, making the film feel dark and claustrophobic. It allows us to focus on characters without actually knowing what might be lurking just around the corner. One particular scene, involving the intruders attempting to escape the old man in a pitch black basement, utilizes grayed night vision and silence for a voyeuristic style that effectively accentuates the nervous tension.
It isn’t all grand. The movie certainly succumbs to the common pitfalls of the genre, mainly dumb decision making. At one point, Rocky stops, turns and gives a quip at the old man when she thinks she’s gotten free instead of just hauling ass to safety. This, of course, backfires like it would in every horror movie. Stupid, lack of common sense, events happen throughout, but the amount of unexpected twists and the sheer claustrophobic nature of the movie are enough to make it a solid 90 minutes of entertainment.
FINAL GRADE: B