November 29, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: DON'T BREATHE

Starring Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Directed by Fede Alvarez. (2016, 88 min).

In a year that's seen some pretty decent high-profile horror films for a change, Don't Breathe is arguably the best of the bunch. Scary, smart, suspenseful and unpredictable, it's everything a good fright flick should be.

Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) are three brash young burglars who regularly break into houses and fence the valuables for cash. Since Alex's dad owns the company which has installed the security systems for these homes, getting in and out is easy. Their next target to too enticing to resist: an old, blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) who lives in a run-down house in an abandoned neighborhood and apparently has hundreds of thousands in cash stashed there.

Breaking in is easy. Getting back out, however, turns into a fight for their lives because the blind man isn't nearly as helpless as they assumed. Not only is he heavily armed, his house is fortified to make it almost escape proof...for good reason; in addition to being slightly south of sanity, he's got some dark secrets locked away in his house. To elaborate would be giving away some of the film's greatest surprises, but even horror fans who think they've seen it all might be occasionally blindsided. Best of all, these sometimes unnerving plot twists are never gratuitous, making total sense within the context of the story.

"Eeew...old man smell."
Speaking of context, Don't Breathe's greatest asset may be its characters. The three robbers are pretty dumb, but not dumbly written. Rocky may be the so-called 'hero', but she is committing serious crimes for personal gain (though her motivation turns out to be understandable). Conversely, while the old man is a formidable and terrifying villain, we're provided enough exposition that we sort-of empathize with him, even though he's clearly a dangerous psychotic. The fact every character is morally ambiguous at-best is a nice touch that helps raise Don't Breathe above the usual horror fodder.

This is director Fede Alvarez' second solid horror film in a row, the first being his blood-soaked remake of Evil Dead. He demonstrates he's no one trick pony with this film by going the opposite route, placing atmosphere, narrative and tightly-wound suspense above gore and special effects. And it's too bad they don't ever recognize the horror genre at the Oscars, because Lang's menacing-yet-sympathetic performance is at-least worth a Supporting Actor nod (which is all the more impressive when you consider how little dialogue his character actually has).

With it's unique premise, memorable villain, claustrophobic atmosphere and clever twists, Don't Breathe manages to breathe some new life into what could have been just another tired retread of an old formula, making it a must-own for horror fans. Here's hoping Alverez quits while he's ahead, abandons his proposed idea for a sequel and moves on to something new, because attempting to turn a nifty little idea like this into a franchise is just begging for diminishing returns.

No Escape”
Creating the Creepy House”
Meet the Cast”
Man in the Dark”
The Sounds of Horror”
DELETED SCENES (with commentary)
AUDIO COMMENTARY – by Alvarez, co-writer Rodo Sayagues & Stephen Lang

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