The success of “Don’t Breathe” is thanks in large part to its stripped down approach to horror. Director Fede Alvarez took the criticisms of his last movie to heart choosing here to focus on atmosphere and tension instead of the extreme gore that dominated his 2013 remake of “Evil Dead”. It’s a refreshing choice, the horror genre has become saturated with movies stuffed with blood and cheap thrills, “Don’t Breathe” on the other hand represents a more reserved approach to scaring its audience and is all the better for it.
The initial premise of “Don’t Breathe” appears to be cut from the same cloth as countless home invasion thrillers. A trio of young adults break into the home of an old war veteran hoping to land a big score but quickly find themselves trapped desperate for a way out. The wrinkle here is that the home owner is blind, which you’d think would give the three thieves an edge but in “Don’t Breathe” nothing is as it appears on the surface. Even without his vision the blind man is a force that these three robbers are completely outmatched against, with one of them being killed by him early on setting out the life or death stakes.
Jane Levy and Dylan Minnette play the two main home invaders, Rocky and Alex. The film does a good job of making you care about them even though they’re technically thieves that have robbed several homes prior to this one. Rocky’s motivations are to get enough money to be able to move her and her daughter away from Detroit to California making her a suitably sympathetic protagonist. Alex is unfortunately not really developed past his school boy like crush on Alex, who is shacking up with the third member of the crew Money (Daniel Zovatto), but even so Minnette is inherently likeable enough for you to want to see him survive.
Stephen Lang is the frightening mountain like man who locks the thieves in his house and slowly hunts them down. Though the blind man is technically the victim of a crime you’ll find yourself rooting against him, which is clearly the filmmaker’s intentions. This is confirmed around a third of the way through after some surprising and very creepy revelations about the old war vet. Lang is suitably imposing and it’s undoubtedly refreshing for a horror movie to depower its antagonist when typically they’re empowered against the protagonists.
“Don’t Breathe” disappointingly doesn’t really play with the home owners blindness as much as you might expect. There’s really only one scene, in which he thrusts Alex and Rocky into total darkness, where the strength of the premise is truly realised. Nevertheless on the whole “Don’t Breathe” is one of the few horror movies of the last five years that will genuinely get your heart racing and palms sweating thanks to a strong sense of atmosphere and some expertly crafted tension.
Horror fans have had a rough ride in the last decade with the genre’s name being tarnished thanks to waves of cheap found footage movies and grotesque gore filled features but “Don’t Breathe” is a rare treat. Much like last years “It Follows” Fede Alvarez has found success by emulating the feeling of classic horror films instead of focusing on bloody or cheap jump scares. Rarely has a title been so appropriate as throughout “Don’t Breathe” you’ll often find yourself holding your breathe in sheer terror.
Score – 7.0