Don’t Breathe: A Breath of Fresh Air for the Home Invasion Thriller

How do you follow up a successful remake of a horror classic? That was the task director Fede Álvarez faced after his re-imagining of Evil Dead. For his sophomore effort, Alvarez teamed up again with producer Sam Raimi (Drag Me To Hell) and Ghost House Pictures. The result, Don’t Breathe, was a subversion of the home invasion sub-genre. In spite of late August typically being a dumping ground for studio holdovers, Don’t Breathe was a surprising box office hit. Even more surprising – critics loved it.

Synopsis

Rocky dreams of a life far away from her abusive home for herself and her younger sister. With few options, Rocky, her boyfriend Money, and best friend, Alex, scrape by breaking into houses. But Rocky’s big break may be around the corner. Money sees a news story about a veteran who won a big money settlement after his daughter was killed in a car accident. Everything about the job sounds easy. Not only is the veteran’s house in an abandoned neighbourhood, but he’s also blind. But Rocky and her friends quickly learn that getting into the house is a lot easier than getting out.

Don’t Breathe A Tightly Paced Roller Coaster Ride

At a trim 88 minutes, Don’t Breathe is a tightly paced roller coaster ride of a thriller. Little time is wasted setting the premise in motion. And once director Fede Álvarez gets his protagonists into the house he rarely lets the suspense slow down. While Álvarez’s Evil Dead was a gonzo gore-fest, Don’t Breathe is more interested in white-knuckled tension. Álvarez initially draws things out as his would-be burglars crouch and hide in the dark to avoid a grasping ‘Blind Man’. But once the first act of violence pierces the screen, Don’t Breathe relishes in putting its character in increasingly uncompromising positions. ‘The Blind Man’ stalking the young thieves in a dark cellar is a stand-out scene.

Álvarez Breathes New Life Into a Tired Subgenre

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the home invasion thriller has been done so many times. Simply put, the premise exploits our fears of being ‘unsafe’ in the one place we should feel safest. Recent movies like Hush and Don’t Breathe, however, have put some fresh spins on the subgenre. Though the premise is simple, Don’t Breathe effectively mines the ‘reversal of fortune’ idea for all it’s worth. Just when it feels like the concept is about to run dry, Álvarez throws in some genuinely unexpected twists.

…Don’t Breathe effectively mines the ‘reversal of fortune’ idea for all it’s worth.

Of course, not everything works in the movie. There is one creepily uncomfortable sequence late in the movie. It feels a little unnecessarily exploitative. If Álvarez cuts the scene, the movie certainly wouldn’t miss it. Don’t Breathe also falls into the slasher movie trap of one too many false endings. This isn’t to say that these scenes aren’t fun – no one is going to accuse Don’t Breathe of overstaying its welcome. A final tease for a potential sequel feels more like a playful nod to 80s horror than tiresome trope.

Jane Levy A Rising Star in the Genre

Along with Samara Weaving (The Babysitter, Mayhem, Ready Or Not, Bad Girl), Jane Levy has emerged as one of the genre’s brightest stars. In spite of Don’t Breathe’s trim running time, Levy injects ‘Rocky’ with a full range of genuine emotions. In addition, Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues’s screenplay gives Levy plenty to do, inverting expectations about ‘damsels-in-distress’. Levy gives the audience a character with whom they can empathize, thus experiencing genuine suspense when she’s in danger. Another up-and-coming young star, Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps, The Open House), continues to impress with a strong performance.

Veteran character actor, Stephen Lang, gifts horror its newest villain, ‘The Blind Man’.

Veteran character actor, Stephen Lang, gifts horror its newest villain, ‘The Blind Man’. Like the best of the Universal Monsters, Lang’s ‘Blind Man’ balances out monstrosity with tragedy. Though not entirely sympathetic, Alvarez and Sayague build enough backstory into their antagonist to elevate him from two-dimensionality. As a result, ‘The Blind Man’ is a much more interesting villain, offering some surprises in movie. Yes, Don’t Breathe is guilty of turning their villain into an ‘invincible’ slasher killer by the movie’s climax. But Lang is so much fun as the resourceful and relentless ‘Blind Man’ that it’s a forgivable movie sin.

Don’t Breathe Another Standout Horror Movie In a Strong Decade For the Genre

In a decade that has given horror fans an impressive slate of titles, Don’t Breathe is yet another win for the genre. A compelling villain, tight pacing, likeable protagonists, and a steady stream of jumps and suspense make Don’t Breathe a future classic. For director Fede Álvarez, it’s another stylish effort that further sets him apart as a filmmaker to watch.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A-

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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