Title: Don’t Breathe
Release Date: August 26, 2016
Director: Fede Alvarez
Release Format: Theatrical
In 2013, I attended an advanced screening of the Evil Dead remake, directed by then newcomer Fede Alvarez. Words cannot describe how much I loved and adored it. It was stylish, horrifying, gory and understood the silliness of the Evil Dead movies down to a T. I was quite curious to see where this young protege of Sam Raimi would take his career next. So when I saw the trailer for Don’t Breathe, my jaw dropped to the floor. The setup seemed original and ingenious. Jane Levy from the Evil Dead remake was the lead and the villain was played by Stephen Lang. So, naturally, I got hyped for this film.
So, all that said, does Don’t Breathe live up to its hype? Is it as good as all the critics are making it out to be? Honestly, not in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, the film isn’t terrible. Don’t Breathe has a good atmosphere, a cool villain performance in Stephen Lang and some legitimately good scares here and there. Let’s face it, in recent years, films that are “legitimately” scary are exceptionally rare. So it is good to see a film that can keep those scares coming without resorting to cheap gimmicks. However, Don’t Breathe manages to shoot itself in the foot with a second half too ridiculous for words. It introduces elements that are so nonsensical, it pretty much ruins what is otherwise an impressive horror film.
Don’t Breathe starts out very strong. We are introduced to our main heroine, Rocky (Jane Levy). Why even the cruelest parent would name their daughter Rocky is beyond me but I’ll buy it. Anyway, Rocky robs houses with her boyfriend, Money (Daniel Zovatto), and her best friend, Alex (Dylan Minnette). Long story short, Money discovers the house of a blind army veteran that holds an inheritance big enough for them to leave town. After convincing Alex to help them, the three break into the house, assuming the blind man won’t be any trouble. However, that assumption proves false when they find themselves fighting for survival against a man who can hear their every move.
Before I get into why this movie commits cinematic suicide in its latter half, let’s talk about the positives. The tension in this movie is forever mounting. It never lets up and, like the title suggests does not allow you to breathe. This is an edge of your seat flick because Fede Alvarez understands how to build and sustain tension. There are many scary moments in the film. It doesn’t have to resort to pointless jump scares. Jacking up the volume of the music isn’t scary, it is just annoying. Thankfully, here is a film that never has to resort to that cheap effect.
Stephen Lang is amazing in this flick. The film is worth seeing if only for him. One scene in particular has him shutting lights off in a basement, making the protagonists as blind as him. Lang has a strong presence. Because of this, he is a force to be reckoned with in a horror based environment. He’s smart, he’s strong and most of all he’s scary. Blind or not, you see Stephen Lang coming your way, consider your bowels voided. If there was ever an excuse for Lang to play Cable in Deadpool 2, this is it. Make it happen, FOX.
Sadly, the good stuff pretty much stops there. Remember when I said the premise for this film “seemed” original? Well as the film went on, many of the film’s plot points were seeming awfully familiar.
- The main character is trying to save a family member close to them
- Main character and two friends break into a rich person’s barred up home to steal inheritance money
- The leader is killed violently shortly after entering the house (not a spoiler, it’s in the trailer)
- The bad guy has a huge dog that chases the main characters throughout the house on several occasions.
- The bad guy keeps a dark secret in the basement.
- The main character desperately tries to escape the house that seems to be locked up at every point and with heavy security.
… this movie is essentially The People Under The Stairs with a blind guy. If you’ve never seen that film, please do. It is outstanding and one of Wes Craven’s best. May he rest in peace.
Minnette and Levy both do fine in their roles. Both of these actors have so many scenes without dialogue and it’s those scenes in which the movie shines brightest. When the film focuses on them just trying to stay quiet so that Lang won’t hear them, the tension is insane. That’s when the film works best. I really wish it had stayed that way. Unfortunately, there is a twist thrown in the second half of the film and it’s not a good one. In fact, it was actually quite stupid. Because of this, the gritty realism shown in the first half feels incredibly undermined. I can’t spoil what it is but the more I think about it, the less it makes sense.
Let me put it to you like this. The situation began with these teenagers robbing a blind veteran that they underestimated. This blind man went from a simple old veteran trying to protect his home to a mix between Daredevil and Jigsaw. He goes from John McClane in Die Hard (just a simple guy) to John McClane in A Good Day To Die Hard (invincible with infinite lives). It went from scary to absolutely ridiculous at the drop of a hat. It also didn’t help that the film just wouldn’t end. While Alvarez doesn’t resort to jump scares, he is clearly not against using way too many fake-outs, to the point that this film wears out its welcome about twenty minutes before it actually ends.
But the final issue I have with this film is the main character. Rocky went from a smart, well fleshed out character that I liked to an idiotic, despicable character that I found myself hating. By the end, I was honestly rooting for Stephen Lang to croak this chick. Again, Jane Levy was still awesome but her character did a complete 180. Now, I’m not allowed to spoil anything but I will use an example to try and lend some context. This may seem completely unrelated but when you see the movie, you’ll understand…
There’s a scene in the Ducktales movie where the genie asks Scrooge “What’s more important, a fortune or your life?” Scrooge actually takes a moment to think about this to which the genie replies “Hey! It’s not exactly a trick question.” Enough said.
Overall, Don’t Breathe is kind of worth seeing if only for Steven Lang’s performance. If you go into this movie just for the scares and Steven Lang, you may get your money’s worth. It was a perfectly fine horror film before it shot itself in the foot. It is scary, it just makes no sense. Plus the main character growing unlikeable by the end didn’t help its case. If you want something with even the slightest bit of common sense, I’d recommend just watching 10 Cloverfield Lane again. That film has got this one beat by an absolute landslide. I don’t think Don’t Breathe is an awful movie but it’s certainly not the perfect horror film everyone is making it out to be. I still love these actors, I still love Fede Alvarez but the film ultimately fell flat for me. It is the ultimate definition of a disappointment.
- Stephen Lang (Please let him be Cable)
- Good Scares, Tension & Atmosphere (Mostly In The First Half)
- Ridiculous & Nonsensical Twists
- Rips Off A Better Home Invasion Film
- Wears Out It's Welcome In The Last Twenty Minutes.
- Lead Becomes Unlikeable In The End
- Not A Thinking Man's Movie
A graduate of Full Sail University with a Bachelors Degree in Creative Writing, Adam is a Writer and Film Critic, looking to make his mark on the world. When he isn’t at the movies, writing for The Nerd Stash, playing Duck Hunt (respect the classics) or delivering pizzas to his neighbors, he is back at school earning his Masters Degree in Film Production.