Premiering at South by Southwest earlier this year, Fede Alvarez’s 2016 feature film Don’t Breathe falls somewhere between the genres of home invasion thriller and suffocating no-escape horror. The premise of the story is simple: three young thieves, practised in the art of breaking into wealthy households and selling their findings, learn of a challenging new target with the potential to bag them a life-changing sum of money. Their mark is an ex-military man living alone and guarding a heap of cash previously given to him by the family that killed his daughter in a road accident. Living alone in an abandoned area of town the man is also blind, seemingly rendering him an unthreatening victim to the naïve youngsters, who plan to search and rob the house while he lays asleep upstairs.
In a classic switch-up, which quickly turns on its head any previous notion of who is the victim and who is the bad guy, the lonely blind man reveals his true colours within minutes of the thieves entering the house. In this role, Stephen Lang is terrifying, with his rugged appearance and his scarred, unseeing eyes. As he crashes and thumps around his home with an untamed rage matching that of his Rottweiler, he is enough to strike fear into the audience even before he starts swinging around garden tools and frantically firing his gun. Set predominantly within the four walls of this character’s home, much of the film feels desperately claustrophobic, added to by the use of roaming camera shots and a bass-heavy score that thunders through the auditorium. The scenes that lack music are even more powerful, as the blind man searches for sounds that the youths are so desperately trying not to make.
So far so good. But twist after twist after excruciating twist causes the movie to start veering dangerously on the edge of comic territory towards the end. A series of near misses and possible escapes, however cleverly choreographed, drive us on a detoured route towards a predictable final destination, with a few bizarre surprises along the way. The major turn for the worse is when the narrative unexpectedly introduces a scene of sexual violence, which could be feasible given the desperate psychopathic tendencies of the blind villain, but is executed in a way that is distasteful and almost laughable.
That being said, most spectators of Don’t Breathe will realise at the close of the film that they in fact haven’t been breathing for what might have been the entire duration. The tension is transferred so realistically from screen to audience that anyone watching really starts to believe that if they make a sound then they too could give the whole game away. This is definitely a film to be best enjoyed on a big screen, so give it a go and enjoy a good jump moment (or 20 in close succession), but be prepared not to scrutinise the plot in too much detail when it’s all over.
Don’t Breathe is released in cinemas nationwide on 9th September 2016.
Watch the trailer for Don’t Breathe here: